Like a French New Wave director, Hal Hartley has always embraced the world of the second-rate. Setting many of his films in a second-rate city (Hoboken, New Jersey) and tracking the lives of second-rate folks has gotten a lot of mileage in the indie circuit - and deservedly so, with small, vignette-like films like Simple Men and The Unbelievable Truth. Henry Fool is still one of his most ambitious movies - a serio-comic art piece that at least acknowledges the outside world - but it's deeply flawed. The script is full of promises that the movie fails to deliver, and few in the cast seem quite sure when and if they're supposed to be funny, earnest, or both. Hartley painted himself into a corner with this one, though he does use interesting paint.
The story turns mainly on the relationship between Queens garbage man Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a pretentious aesthete who drifts into Grim's life. Fool is thoroughly unlikeable - Ryan plays him as greasy, chain-smoking poseur, acting smarter than he actually is - but Simon clearly need somebody in his life. He's friendless, antisocial, and living with his mother and sister, who routinely berate him as retarded. Fool blathers on out his memoirs and opines about the difficult life of a genius ("An honest man is always in trouble," he opines), but he also encourages Simon to start writing himself. For Simon, that counts as friendship enough.
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