Hal Hartley is definitely a director with a cult following. Though his years as a writer/director have created movies such as The Unbelievable Truth and Henry Fool, his name still conjures up some negative responses (with perhaps Henry Fool being the only exception). I guess enough people recognize his latter day Morgan to understand there are truly those very disturbed individuals they’ve run into from time to time.
It’s because of this familiarity that I was hopeful at the beginning of Fay Grim. Parker Posey reprises her role as the ever-flustered single woman who tries her best not to think of Henry, who had disappeared from authorities disguised as a famous writer at the end of the last film. She has trouble along those lines, because her son, fathered by Henry and now age 14, has incurred the wrath of the school principal for bringing into class a highly pornographic hand-cranked viewer (the source for too many repeated jokes). What Fay (Posey) doesn’t realize is that it also reveals secrets about the man who she says wrecked her life, and that those secrets may be state classified ones as described in the notes Henry scribbled onto a series of composition books. Or, at least, so says a CIA agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) who’s been tracking Henry’s whereabouts for years. It’s a preposterous premise, just like Brand Upon the Brain!
It also becomes one of the least believable as this convoluted story of the supposed fate of Henry Fool spins. Fay is sent by Fulbright on a simple assignment of recovering one of Henry’s composition books, but makes the conscious decision to delve deeper into the mess of international intrigue involving numerous countries (I lost count) and various agents lurking about virtually everywhere.
Hartley thinks he can manage a quirky comedy-turned-serious drama from this spider’s web of sexy Russian agents, undercover bellhops, and even another woman who Henry’s wronged. But for this movie to become serious, Fay has to make a couple of crucial decisions that are absolutely beyond reason and destroys what little credibility the previous hour had attempted to give this film. It’s astonishing to me that Fay goes off to finally search for Henry not to kill him, but for another reason which I won’t disclose here. However, I will offer a hint. When we finally meet up with Henry, he’s just as much an asshole as he was in the previous movie.
I’m sure people who love Parker Posey won’t be disappointed that she gets to reprise her role, complete with nervous twitches and tension-easing cigarette smoking scenes, but her acting, along with Goldblum’s, is downright mugging at times, especially during the first half-hour of the film, as though Hartley has to overtly remind them, “Hey this part of the movie is the comedy.”
The ending of the movie leaves the possibility of yet another part to this saga. Now that the film has become drama will it revert back to comedy? Who knows and, unfortunately, from my view, who cares?
Next up, the year’s best comedy so far–no, not that one.