Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fay Grim (2007)

I think I've finally figured out why Parker Posey annoys me so. I always thought it was because she was a terrible, tone-deaf actress, but given free reign to study her technique in Hal Hartley's latest film, it's not quite that. She actually has talent -- she's just used it to cultivate a veneer of ironic detachment that infects every role she takes. Her mannerisms and speech are aloof and knowingly stilted, and she never quite makes eye contact with anyone else in the film. In short, she's deliberately cut off -- her sense of detachment extends so far that she never seems to be relating with anyone else around her, and I just can't swing with that. In many regards, Hartley's quasi-sequel to his 1998 film Henry Fool is pretty fun -- his halting, stylized dialogue has as many off-kilter nuggets of joy as ever ("It's hard to tell through all the foreground debauchery"), the ever-escalating absurdity of the globetrotting situation is amusing in a wry sort of way and most of the actors are game. Jeff Goldblum, in particular, gives a spectacular turn that synthesizes his trademark mannerisms and Hartley's dry loopiness into a sort of befuddled dark menace that rivals his benchmark performance as Seth Brundle. It's almost worth watching the whole film just for the scene where he tries to explain to Posey the intricacies of world politics and undeclared war only to sum it up as, "Civilization, Fay... shit happens." Also, James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan reprise their roles from Henry Fool to great effect -- Urbaniak's quizzical stillness, his refusal to be surprised or moved by anything, is even funnier in this espionage context than it was in the domestic drama of Fool, and Ryan's boorish persona, though used sparingly, provides some great moments near film's end ("How goes the jihad, you cheap fuck?"). But if Fay Grim, like its predecessor, is wounded by Hartley's bizarre tendencies towards shtick and low humor (the scene with Fay and the cell phone set to vibrate, clumsy and obvious as it is, is the film's nadir), it's completely destroyed by the fact that it's built around the great sucking void that is Posey. She doesn't care to engage the material, so neither do we.

Grade: C


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