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HENRY FOOL(director/writer: Hal Hartley; editor: Steve Hamilton; cinematographer: Michael Spiller; cast: Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool), James Urbaniak (Simon Grim), Parker Posey (Fay), Maria Porter (Mary), Kevin Corrigan (Warren); Runtime: 137; The Shooting Gallery/True Fiction Pictures; 1998)
“I was disappointed in Hartley’s most ambitious film to date.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I was disappointed in Hartley’s most ambitious film to date; I expected more than what was delivered. The story is interesting enough about a passive, sexually repressed garbageman named Grim (Urbaniak), who is content with his sullen life until he meets a disheveled drifter named Henry Fool (Ryan). We will learn later on, that the drifter has been released from prison for child rape. He is articulate, full of mischievous zest, a scoundrel passing himself off as an undiscovered writer. The drifter influences Grim to write down his thoughts every day and after they are posted as poems on a local deli’s bulletin board, a high school newspaper prints the poems and Grim soon gets a cult following. As Grim starts to become known through the Internet and eventually wins the Nobel Prize, Henry recedes to domesticity and obscurity. Henry also seduces Grim’s nymphomaniac sister (Parker), who manages not to be as funny as she ordinarily is (this is no fault of hers, the script is not that funny for her part). Henry also seduces Parker’s mother.

Henry Fool can best be viewed as an allegory of the good-guys (non-conformist) versus the bad-guys (the Establishment).

For Hartley aficionados, his comedy is still there in flashes. His trademark drone conversations and absurd situational humor are evident in the scene where a marriage proposal takes place between Henry and Parker while he is taking a wicked dump. This is the best and most powerful scene in the film. But the film is boring at times and belabors its points about publishing, and goes on for too long without seeming to be moving in any one direction; and, is, at best, an uneven attempt to say something serious (which Hartley should be applauded for at least attempting). But the film gets bogged down in telling too many different stories to stay focused on its main theme.

I wanted to like this film and I thought about why I didn’t feel comfortable viewing it for a long time after seeing it; and, I still found that what I got from the film were some chuckles from the zany characters, but I was not comfortable with the dramatics. “Henry Fool” failed to provide a proper tension between plot and character.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”