May 24, 2007


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Fay Grim (R)
Hal Hartley reminds us of Parker Posey’s one-time indie It Girl status in Fay Grim, a loose sequel to Henry Fool, a 1997 movie I remember seeing but don’t remember.

You might remember it, too, for being another in a line of cool Parker Posey movies featuring quirky characters who said ironically funny things. I vaguely remember that it told the story of garbage collector Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) who, at the urging of drifter Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), became an avant garde poet. Fool married Grim’s sister Fay (Posey) and then skipped the country because he was suspected of manslaughter.

That last part, I have to admit, I mostly remember because Fay Grim tells us in its opening scenes. We are also reminded that Fay has a son, Ned (Liam Aiken), by Henry, and that she hasn’t seen Henry for years. After Ned is kicked out of school, the flighty Fay is distraught and, when CIA agents show up at her house, is willing to make a deal to get Simon out of prison to help her parent (Simon has been in prison because he was suspected of helping Henry escape). Seems that the notebooks Henry called his confessions (which were declared to be useless gibberish at the end of the last movie) are so important that not only the CIA but intelligence agencies from around the world are looking for them. Henry might be a nut or he might be some kind of terrorist with super-secret information. CIA agents Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and Fogg (Leo Fitzpatrick) offer Fay a deal — if she helps them look for the notebooks in Paris, they’ll release Simon.

Fay goes to France but the issue of the notebooks becomes ever more twisted (some might be forgeries and some of the people she thinks are assisting her might be after her). Eventually, Fay decides to set off on her own to figure out what the notebooks mean and whether or not Henry, who she’s been told is dead, might really be alive.

I do not remember enough about these characters to care about them or to remember if I ever cared about them. This is only one of the problems with making a sequel to a quiet little movie from a decade ago. Another is the “why now?” factor, which you have to answer in the story and which this movie only half heartedly attempts to explain.

The movie starts out as almost a spy satire with sliding-off-the-edge-of-the-screen tilty shots and exaggeratedly dramatic dialogue and tone making the movie seem far more overtly goofy than I remember Henry Fool being. Somewhere near the two-thirds mark, however, the movie does start to take itself seriously and seems to want to offer real consequences to actions and real things to say about the state of the world. Without being nearly as oddball funny as the movie’s opening hour or so, this part of the movie is far goofier. Fay is too light a character, too much Posey affection to suddenly be plunged into, well, grimness. Like finding an old pair of Doc Martens in the back of the closet, Posey wears Fay like she’s trying on some hip outfit from her youth. (In fact, Fay’s wardrobe is so chicly hip that I started to wonder if Posey did this movie because she literally wanted to wear Fay’s snazzy clothes.) She struts, she poses but it’s all very self-conscious, the way you look at yourself in the mirror, always half smiling, when you try on that dress you wore in college.

The rest of the movie is mirrors Posey’s performance, but muted and in the background, with Goldblum’s befuddly manner and the stagy sneakiness of the rest of the gang helping to keep us from ever mistaking these characters for real people. C

R for language and some sexuality. Written and directed by Hal Hartley, Fay Grim is about two hours long and is distributed in limited release by Magnolia Pictures. The movie is currently playing in the Boston area.