Fay Grim is a catchy little adventure--a worthy follow up to Henry Fool.
Picking up 10 years since 1997's Henry Fool, we see that struggling writer Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) has fled the country and is presumably dead, leaving his estranged wife Fay Grim (Parker Posey) to fend for herself. She is now using her maiden name, trying to live a normal life as a single mother. Fay's poet laureate brother Simon (James Urbaniak) is in jail for aiding and abetting Henry, while his publisher (Chuck Montgomery) is putting the moves on Fay. But then the CIA shows up on Fay's doorstep with suspicions Henry may still alive and believe the clues to his whereabouts may be in his diaries. Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) sends Fay on a spy mission to obtain said diaries, and things get further complicated as more quirky characters weave in and out of Fay's journey. It might be wise to rent Henry Fool before seeing Fay Grim, just so you can remind yourself about these characters and have a better understanding.
Everyone is being idiosyncratic on purpose but not in an unnatural way because the characters aren't too far off from the performers' distinct personalities. Posey is naturally off kilter, overwhelmed by her surroundings whether as a character in a movie or an actor navigating red carpets and press junkets. As a woman left in the lurch by her husband and thrust into international espionage, she's perfect. Goldblum speaks with his usual frazzled authority. The other lesser known personalities fill their roles effectively as well. Urbaniak is just socially awkward enough you can see why he'd be the chump but smart enough to be ultimately helpful. Montgomery is an executive type who relishes his involvement in the intrigue. As Fay's son, Liam Aiken plays the loner kid, not quite Goth but a disaffected rebel nonetheless. Fay also encounters plenty of European spy types who bring a certain level of campiness to the espionage genre.
You might feel left out if you haven't seen Henry Fool. They manage to fill in the Henry Fool backstory without a lot of exposition, but there is definitely something missing. Then again, so what if it might all be a little confusing? Figuring out the details is not important, it's the ride that counts. Being ultimately quirky himself, indie director Hal Hartley manages to keep the pace moving throughout Fay Grim and all of the elements seem to tie in. The breezy dialogue is a treat. And for being an international adventure on a budget, the film never feels cheap. Presenting chases and gunfights as a series of still shots may avoid actually staging elaborate action sequences, but it's also more interesting to watch than the same old shoot 'em ups. Nobody is going to out-Woo John Woo so having this device is better. At two hours, it does get a bit overwhelming to keep up, but there are worse places to be stuck for 120 minutes.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.