Fay Grim
Director: Hal Hartly (Henry Fool, Book of Life, No Such Thing, The Girl from Monday)
Writer: Hal Hartly
Producers: Martin Hagemann, Hal Hartley, Jason Kliot, Mike S. Ryan, Joana Vicente
Starring: Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum, James Urbaniak, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jay Ryan, Liam Aiken, Elina L÷wensohn
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 118 min
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reviewed by Andrew Dykstra
     A short, subjective background to take into account: Hal Hartley is a filmmaker who is cut from much the same cloth as Jarmusch and Mamet, a creator who fashions self assured characterizations that tingle with a glow of life that is as captivating to us as it is unfamiliar. Hartley can claim independant status of his films as much as anyone, which makes much of his product an elusive thing for mainstream audiences to identify with. His stories dwell in abstractions and quirks, lending both charm and frustrating obstruction for the viewer to absorb. I, for one, dig that.

      Fay Grim is signature Hartley as a sequel to his 1997 film, Henry Fool. We are immediately introduced to the titular Fay Grim, a flirty yet scatterbrained single mother with a nervy, troublesome 14-year-old son and an award winning poet brother who is currently spending his time in the state pen for forgery. It isn't long before federal agents come knocking on her door claiming to have received information that Henry Fool, her former husband originally thought dead, might still be alive. They explain that he has left a globally scattered paper trail of personal journal notebooks that suggest not only his continued existence, but also grounds for treason. Fay is soon knee deep in international espionage, embarking on an continent-hopping mission to recover all eight notebooks and locate her long lost husband.

      It sounds like a simple enough story, but Fay Grim has some real flaws that keep it from being truly recommendable. Hartley crams the espionage angle with a Clancy novel's worth of history on the covert indiscrepencies of Henry's encounters as a rogue agent and tangling the story with enough double-crosses to spin the audience's attention into total confusion.

      I love the way Hartley fleshes out his characters. His dialogue and character rendition are the shining backbone of all his films, equal parts unique and engrossing, and the moments in Fay Grim that utilize those elements are far and away the best parts of the film, making it all the more glaring when the sharpness of the characters gives way to a maddening flood of overcomplicated backstory.

      The acting is solid all the way around. I've never been a huge fan of Parker Posey. Something about her always distracted me, but her turn as Fay was almost pitch perfect. In her part, she held up as much of the film as she was able to, flighty and flirtatious personified. She couldn't quite save the film, but she was a joy to watch. Jeff Goldblum needs more work, STAT. His performance as lead agent Fulbright played up his signature dryness and wit to perfection. The rest of the supporting cast, with James Urbaniak as Fay's brother Simon, Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry Fool, and a parade of others, did their work well. The direction's a tad clunky at times, (even outside the writing problems) with the whole film being shot on dutch angles and occasionally awkward rapid-fire photo montages. A little too distracting for its own good.

      It's really a shame to give this film such a low rank, considering. Hartley's capable of more than what came out here, and i hope that next time, he will treat us to a piece that can really take advantage of his unique voice. This is definitely not your average movie, and I would still throw out a cautioned nudge to catch it if you get the opportunity. There's enough about it to give it that.

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