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  Fay Grim Nosey Posey
Year: 2006
Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum, James Urbaniak, Saffron Burrows, Elina Löwensohn, Liam Aiken, Thomas Jay Ryan, Leo Fitzpatrick, Anatole Taubman, Nikolai Kinski, Adnan Maral, Harald Schrott, Chuck Montgomery, Megan Gay, D.J. Mendel, Miho Nikaido
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Fay Grim (Parker Posey) is worried about her son, Ned (Liam Aiken), he's fourteen and seems to be headed off the rails, and out of school, for that matter. He is the son left to her by her ex-partner who she realised after he had disappeared from her life, and indeed the world, apparently, she knew nothing about him whatsoever. She would not be that bothered, except her brother Simon (James Urbaniak), who was inspired to be a poet by that ne'erdowell, is struggling too, and now the CIA have got in contact to inform her that they need her to help track this man, Henry Fool, down, because his journals are coded to reveal all sorts of military and state secrets. Fay wonders how she become embroiled in this situation as it gets its claws into her...

This was the quasi-sequel to writer and director Hal Hartley's 1998 drama Henry Fool, which arrived just at the point where his indie fame was translating into an incredibly specialised cult following, so niche that unless you were around in the nineties and appreciated his gabfests like Trust or The Unbelievable Truth, it had got so that you would be highly unlikely to have heard of him. Yet he kept working, albeit in sporadic bursts, and this movie garnered a little more attention since it was a follow-up to a film that had been fairly well-received and a minor favourite of that indie crowd of the nineties. However, it was clear Hartley was not willing to rely on his old hits, so to speak, for Fay Grim was a very different kettle of fish, his version of a popular genre, the spy thriller.

Except that he plainly found the twists and turns of the espionage movie's conventions absurd at best, and sought to put them in their place, Hartley-style. The manner in which that was mapped out was to render the plot so impenetrable that eventually you had to accept that the characters knew what was happening even if they were reluctant to share it with the audience, and you would be well within your rights to zone out as the proceedings stretched out into a very long second hour before the chit chat ended and something recognisable from other spy efforts occurred. On the other hand, listening to the characters converse at great length was pretty much the point in this guy's work, so if you were attuned to the consciously artificial yet weirdly heartfelt manner in which the dialogue flowed, this remained of a piece with Hartley's earlier efforts despite the spoofery.

Needless to say, Parker Posey was ideal for this sardonic eccentricity and held the wavering plot together with great aplomb, despite not conveying what was actually supposed to be happening - maybe it didn't matter. Some of the director's stock players appeared as well as her, such as Urbaniak or Elina Löwensohn, comfortably slotting into roles of discomfort, though Jeff Goldblum was an intriguing addition as the head CIA agent. Though this adopted the James Bond approach to globetrotting, perversely in the main we saw anonymous streets of the likes of Berlin or Istanbul, so you did get the idea, whether you liked that idea or not: this was more an anti-spy thriller, and it was in its deadpan fashion trying to be funny as well as it exposed the flaws of the genre in a way that enquired, well, how could anybody possibly follow these things anyway? Mind you, Hartley's notion of a major conundrum was so easily solved that you wondered if we were falling through layers of artificiality here, or whether the technique required was perhaps needing more skill than he would admit. An interesting experiment for a tiny minority. Music by the director (as usual).

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Hal Hartley  (1959 - )

Intelligent American writer and director who deals with with themes of love and the family in a humourous, distinctively talky style. His best films are his first three - The Unbelievable Truth, Trust and Simple Men - all of which combine a sharp wit with melancholy edge to produce affecting portraits of small town American life. Since then, Hartley's best work has been in short films like Surviving Desire, NYC 3/94 and The Book of Life, but Amateur, Flirt and Henry Fool are still intriguing, with only 2001's bizarre No Such Thing an out-and-out failure. Regularly uses the same actors, including Martin Donovan, Robert Burke, Elina Löwensohn and Adrienne Shelly.

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