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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.7%
Worth A Look44.44%
Pretty Bad: 7.41%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Fay Grim
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Jay Seaver

"Neither 'Grim' nor 'Fool'ish."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: Sequels don't sound like a very independent film sort of thing, and they accordingly don't happen very often. After all, most independent films that do well enough to get a sequel financed wind up in the hands of a studio. But sometimes a filmmaker does get a chance to revisit characters a few years later... By which time the crowd at the boutique cinemas and festivals has had a lot of turnover, so it might as well be a completely new film.

Fortunately, the opening scenes of Hal Hartley's Fay Grim have enough exposition that even those of us who have only vaguely heard of Henry Fool can get relatively caught up: Nine years ago, urban poet Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) helped his friend and brother-in-law Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) flee the country, leaving behind wife Fay (Parker Posey) and son Ned (Liam Aiken). This has landed Simon in prison, although royalties from his books support Fay and Ned. Simon's publisher Angus James (Chuck Montgomery) suggests that there might be some money to be made in publishing Henry's notebooks, once dismissed as an unreadable mess, but now possibly of interest. It turns out that they're not just of interest to those interested in reading the works of a man who influenced Simon Grim, but to the international intelligence community: CIA agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and his assistant Carl Fogg (Leo Fitzpatrick) show up at Fay's door, and would like for her to travel to Paris and retrieve two of Henry's eight notebooks, which they believe France is planning to use to blackmail the United States.

The first half of Fay Grim plays as a comedy, both because of the gleeful absurdity of the plot devices and the deliciously off-center performances. Every new bit of information we learn about Henry's past makes him seem less like a man and more like a tall tale, as Henry's journals jump from Santiago to Afghanistan and point in between, alternately describing him as a university janitor with ambitions to become chief librarian and someone whose knowledge of the Israeli nuclear weapons program could cause a planet-wide crisis. Fay's trip to Paris is a never-ending series of awkward bits of tradecraft, with nearly everyone she meets involved in the caper in one way or another.

Parker Posey is an odd delight here, portraying Fay as not especially bright and out of her element besides. She's got weird speech patterns, which aren't just great for delivering Hartley's deadpan lines but also give an early hint (if one is looking) of how she still hasn't gotten over her husband despite his disappearing almost a decade earlier: She interjects "I'm single" into conversation when it sticks out like a sore thumb, and comments about how she hates Henry or is interested in some other man are a little too forceful. Fay's ditzy and eccentric in a lovable way, best exemplified by her near-complete inability to get angry when she's called to her son's school to deal with his discipline problems. It's a kind of mannered performance, but that's part of what makes it so great - Fay is clearly not the everywoman sort, but Posey makes it very easy to put one's self in her place.

Much of the rest of the cast follows her lead: Urbaniak's Simon shares just the smallest bit of his sister's twitchiness, breaking his flat, monotonal delivery when he senses things getting out of control. Elina Lowensohn's Bebe is even less suited to the spy games than Fay, although her sweet tooth and impatience frequently and humorously break through her terror. Chuck Montgomery is exaggerated smoothness as Angus, always with a ready quite about the book publishing business's amorality and lack of interest in actual quality.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Jeff Goldblum gives the least mannered performance, never resorting to his signature mumbling. He has to serve as the straight man when confronted with the Grim family and their friends, while also spitting out some of the more absurd backstory as relates to Henry's life in espionage. Liam Aiken plays Ned as a fairly normal fourteen-year-old, though one who doesn't blink at the strangeness in his life. Thomas Jay Ryan doesn't show up much until the film's last act, and compared to the rest of the cast, he's blustery to the point of being obnoxious.

The last act is a little problematic. The first hour or hour and a half of the movie is consistently funny, whizzing along with a funny line every minute, but around the time Fay gets to Istanbul, things start getting serious. All the weird little mannerisms drain from Fay, and even though we've seen signs that she's still carrying a torch for Henry, we're not exactly invested in the relationship (at least, not those of us starting with Fay Grim; those who saw Henry Fool may feel differently). Maybe being so tongue-in-cheek initially has sapped our ability to play the rest of the movie straight, or maybe Hartley just couldn't think of an end for his quirky spy movie.

That doesn't make the end bad by any means, and certainly doesn't come close to undoing all the amusing moments or entertaining performances. In fact, it winds up a pretty interesting romance, considering how little time the protagonists spend with each other.

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originally posted: 04/27/07 00:03:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

4/13/09 Baloney Tedious to watch. Dead in the pan with no sizzle. 2 stars
6/08/07 William Goss A deadpan espionage send-up that more than overstays its welcome. 2 stars
6/03/07 dmitry samarov The master of deadpan, stilted dialogue strikes again 5 stars
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  18-May-2007 (R)
  DVD: 22-May-2007



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Hal Hartley

Written by
  Hal Hartley

  Parker Posey
  Thomas Jay Ryan
  James Urbaniak
  Jeff Goldblum
  Liam Aiken
  Saffron Burrows

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