Single mom Fay (Parker Posey) only wants to raise her 14-year old son Ned (Liam Aiken) to NOT be like his father, Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan), who disappeared seven years ago. Even in his absence, though, Henry still influences their lives when Fay is recruited by CIA Agent Fullbright (Jeff Goldblum) to take part in a dangerous plan to recover Henry’s potentially explosive “confessions” in Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim.”
I don’t think that I ever seen a Hal Hartley film but have been aware of his reputation for eccentric filmmaking, This rep put me off a bit so I was surprised that three-fourths of “Fay Grim” is witty, sometimes ludicrously so, and entertaining. Hartley weaves a legend-filled story about Fay’s husband, Henry Fool. As the hunt for his damning, possibly treasonous diaries unrolls, we learn that Henry may have had a hand in many world-shaking events, such as the overthrow of the legitimate government of an unnamed South American country in the 70’s. (I read this to be the CIA involvement in the demise of Salvator Allende’s socialist government in Chile back in 1973.)
The legends about Henry’s checkered past are amusingly sustained until the unfortunate arrival on the scene of the character himself. Thomas Jay Ryan is an actor out of sync with those around him. His Henry is not very likable and played with overt theatricality by Ryan, making his scenes feel forced and unconvincing. This too bad since Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum and the rest of the players hold their part of the film together quite well. Unfortunately, the last chapter of “Fay Grim” falls on its face, causing it to lose any goodwill built up during the bulk of the film.
Techs are OK but it is Fay’s numerous, elegant costumes that are most notable. Posey is a clotheshorse that make the glad rags look gorgeous and a real character in “Fay Grim.”
I would have liked to see what Hal Hartley’s latest would have been like if he kept Henry an enigmatic legend rather than a real, not very likable character/actor. But, that is not to be. It could have been good. In the end, it was not. I give it a C+.Laura:
A single Queens mom is worried that her son will grow up to be like his dad, Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan, "Henry Fool") an escaped convict on the lam who was aided and abetted by her famous brother Simon (James Urbaniak, "Henry Fool," "The Girl from Monday"), a Nobel prize winning poet. But when she is enlisted by the CIA to find her husband's notebooks and bring them back from Paris, she becomes enmeshed in a tangled trail of espionage. Writer/director Hal Hartley follows up his "Henry Fool" ten years later with "Fay Grim."
Celebrated American Independent Hal Hartley's more recent films have been a string of half-realized efforts produced to diminishing returns and while "Fay Grim" has initial, humorous promise it devolves into a convoluted morass, peopled with characters of head scratching motivation.
In early scenes, it is a pleasure listening to Posey spar with Jeff Goldblum's ("The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") Agent Fulbright like two characters from a zonked out Mamet movie and one can continue to chuckle at Hartley's stew of Hungarian Communists, Israeli agents, North Korean spies and Al Qaeda operatives, but the search for Henry is far more interesting that the finding of him. Once Fool enters the picture, this house of cards comes tumbling down. All that's left to do is sit back and admire Posey's incredible costuming (the film's most published still suggests Irma Vep).
In the end, all of Hartley's whimsical ideas - his literary themes, world politics and compromised friendships - don't add up. Incidental characters named after world class directors begin to turn up - Herzog, Chabrol - but Hartley stops at two. One gets the sense of a writer who likes to hear himself talk so much, he loses his focus and begins to ramble.
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