1998, people still talked about independent filmmaking as a movement, while
keeping a straight face. You could also get away with characters named “Henry
Fool” and “Simon Grim” without being dismissed for clumsy pretension. It was
therefore the perfect time to release Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool, which remains his biggest hit to date. The dramedic
fable hardly seemed to lend itself to a sequel treatment, yet Hartley delivered
Fay Grim anyway. The Grim family is
now a full-fledged franchise, with Hartley’s third installment, Ned Rifle (trailer here) opening this
Wednesday in New York.
you remember the first Fool, but
skipped the second Grim, you are not
alone. Apparently, at the end of her eponymous film, Fay Grim was unjustly
convicted of terrorism and her son, Ned Rifle as he is now known, went into
witness relocation. Needless to say, this fine state of affairs is all the
fault of her husband, Rifle’s father, the jerkweed literary poseur and degenerate
drunkard Henry Fool. After seven years, Rifle is finally allowed to see his
mother. Aging out of witness protection, he will soon leave Rev. Daniel Gardner’s
family to set out on his own. His plan is simple. Kill Henry Fool for ruining
his mother’s life.
would seem run somewhat counter to the Christian faith Rifle adopted under Rev.
Gardner’s tutelage, but sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. To find
Fool, Rifle will drop in on his uncle, Nobel Prize winning poet Simon Grim.
That is how he crosses paths with Susan Weber, a graduate student sort of
stalking Grim. However, as Weber attaches herself to Rifle, it becomes clear
she has her own mysterious reasons for wanting to track down Fool.
Rifle’s rather problematic mission, Hartley treats his Evangelical faith rather
respectfully. It is very clear he and Rev. Gardner are flawed, but we are
supposed to consider them basically good people nonetheless. Fool on the other hand,
remains an intentionally Mephistolean figure, as well as an annoying blowhard. Again,
there is something hugely compelling about Simon Grim’s idiosyncratically
humanistic perspective, but Hartley shortchanges him on screen time this go
it is impossible to take one’s eyes off James Urbaniak when he is on screen. He
continues to deepen Grim’s cynical but forgiving everyman persona. Martin
Donovan is suitably earnest as Rev. Gardner, while Thomas Jay Ryan continues to
be wildly obnoxious and somewhat menacing as Fool. Parker Posey makes the most
of her limited scenes, playing Fay Grim like a jailhouse Norma Desmond. However,
Aiken (who has played Rifle since he was a mere lad of seven years) grows into
the neurotic lead role quite nicely. He also develops some appealingly
off-kilter chemistry with series newcomer Aubrey Plaza, who manages to be
simultaneously awkward and sultry as Weber.
problem with the misconceived war-on-terror middle film is that the Grim family
is now stuck with a lot of clunky mythology. Hartley does his best to minimize
it, reaching back to a scandal furtively referenced in the first film for the
film’s big shocking reveal. It all works better than you might expect, even though
the characters all seem slightly embarrassed by their continuing longevity.
After all, Henry Fool was the sort of
you want to seal into a climate controlled vault, lest it be contaminated by a
stray ironic remark from outside its ecosystem.
Although billed as the final chapter, if there
is a fourth film, it has to focus on Urbaniak again and be called Simon Grim. Of course, we have to deal
with what we have before us—Ned Rifle,
which manages to get into your head thanks to some eccentric but forceful
performances and Hartley’s soothing electric soundtrack. Recommended for fans
of Hartley and Plaza, Ned Rifle opens
this Wednesday (4/1) at the IFC Center, in New York.
Labels: Aubrey Plaza, Hal Hartley, Henry Fool, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey