Fay Grim

2007, Movie, R, 119 mins


Hal Hartley's 10-years-later sequel to HENRY FOOL (1998) is a hugely entertaining follow-up to his ponderous suburban fable about a boorish, self-styled intellectual and the garbage man he accidentally transforms into a world-famous poet.

Seven years after murderer Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) vanished, along with the autobiographical "confessions" he was convinced would turn the literary world on its ear, leaving his wife, the high-strung, unsophisticated Fay Grim (Parker Posey), and her brother, trash-collector-turned-literary-phenomenon Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), in the lurch. Fay is a single mother of troublesome, 14-year-old Ned (Liam Aiken) and doesn't know whether her husband is dead or alive, while Simon is in a federal prison for his part in helping Henry escape the country. Fay's greatest concern is that her son might turn into a self-absorbed sex-fiend like his father, and it looks as though her fears aren't unfounded: Ned is expelled from school for carnal escapades. And that's just the beginning of Fay's troubles. She arrives home to find glib CIA Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and his partner in the living room, bearing the news that Henry is dead — and has been since shortly after he disappeared — and that two of the 10 notebooks in which he scrawled his unpublished confessions (which were universally reviled as puerile, pornographic tripe) are in the possession of the French government. The U.S. government wants them, for reasons not immediately clear to Fay, and would like her to go retrieve them. As Henry's widow, she has the right under French law to all his property. If the irony of HENRY FOOL was that Henry was a vulgar blowhard and his masterpiece a pile of crap, the joke of FAY GRIM is that the pile of crap hides an encrypted message, and Henry proves to have been a globe-hopping adventurer with connections to just about every political upheaval of the last 20 years. Fay leverages her cooperation to get Simon out of jail and takes off for Europe, where she's embroiled in an viper's nest of spies, assassins and covert American agents, joins forces with an eccentric ragamuffin (Elina Lowensohn), who's dating the very-much-alive but missing Henry, and winds up in Turkey on the trail of a political terrorists.

Clever, fast-paced and surprisingly moving, FAY GRIM takes a page from Alfred Hitchcock's Americans-abroad thrillers, in which the glossy surface lies lightly over betrayal and disillusionment. While Hartley apparently couldn't resist the in-joke of naming most of the characters after art-house filmmakers, his snarky, brittle dialogue gradually takes on a darker hue, and the film's final shot is a bleak stunner. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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