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One tries not to throw the word brilliant around too often, as doing so robs the word of any meaning, so I am quite sincere when I bestow the word brilliant on this remarkable film - after all, what is artistic brilliance if not the ability to call forth beauty from the midst of ugliness? This story takes place against a depressing backdrop of poverty, desperation, and dysfunction. Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) works as a garbage man, endures physical attacks on the streets, and comes home each night to a thoroughly dysfunctional family. His mother is obviously depressed and, at times, nonresponsive, while his sister Faye (Parker Posey) is irresponsible and only interested in fulfilling her own [...] needs as often as possible. Simon himself seems anti-social if not mentally challenged. Then a stranger named Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) shows up and changes everything. He has a magnetic personality, albeit one that pushes some people away while drawing others in, and he befriends Simon. Beaming literary pretentiousness, Henry goes on and on about his personal memoirs (or confessions), which he assures Simon will revolutionize the world and society when they are completed and published. When Simon begins following Henry's lead, he produces a new kind of poetry, one which Henry hails as cutting-edge and revolutionary. While his mother and sister ridicule him, Simon is encouraged by Henry to keep writing, rightly pointing to some amazing changes that occur in individuals who read a sampling of his work. Critics initially hail his great poem as poorly written and [...] (the ultimate put-down), yet Simon perseveres through doubt, tragedy, and controversy, eventually meeting with great success - which changes the lives of these characters irrevocably.

In many ways, this film really is all about Henry Fool himself. He's a mystery for much of this film, a strange external force that shows up out of nowhere and changes the lives of those around him. He is an exceptional fellow - but not necessarily what he appears. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about his troubled past and witness his emotional decline in both the present and the future. His darkest secrets and weaknesses are revealed, he becomes more and more dependent on alcohol and cigarettes, and the mask covering the ugliness of his life begins to slip. Even at his worst, though, he is thoroughly human and morbidly fascinating (and something of a mirror to the souls of many of us, if we're honest enough to admit it), especially at the end when the story has basically come full circle.

There is no character like Henry Fool, and Jay Henry Thomas is absolutely amazing in the role. Great performances abound in this film, while Hal Hartley's direction is impeccable. I don't know what to call the world Hartley has created in this film: it's hyper-surreal yet completely realistic at the same time. It deals with an amazing range of issues head on; oftentimes shockingly direct yet always poignant and surprisingly deep. As others have said, this is not a film that could ever have been borne of a major studio; only an independent filmmaker can take the kind of chances that Hartley takes here, or take such a seemingly simple idea and imbue it with such depth, emotional resonance, and integrity. Henry Fool is nothing less than a stellar, bloody brilliant film.
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on 12 June 2000
This film discusses, in Hal Hartley's typical quirky manner, the essence of art. The film starts with the arrival of gift-of-the-gab stranger Henry Fool to rent the dark basement room of a suburban house. He is shown in by Simon Grim (Urbaniak), the reputedly slow elder son who is limited to a career as a garbarge collector, and who lives with his tranquilised mother and sister (Parker Posy) who doesn't seem to do anything. When Simon tells Henry that people think he is slow, he is given an exercise book and told to write whatever he feels unable to say in it. Simon duly fills the book and collapses in an exhausted sleep. What then follows is Fool's campaign to get the 'poetry' within the book, published. By sticking pages up in the local store for all to read, emotions are fired as people are disgusted at the pornography, drop-out kids are tempted into politics, and Fool and Grim's notoriety and fame increases. The film is a highly entertaining, witty and amusing look at what makes something art: is it just well managed hype or is content important? Every character has a strong development, including people you thought you hadn't noticed, and the ending ... is perfect.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 April 2012
Now, I'm not really a literary person, but I love film and this gem sparkles. For me, an unknown director and two lead actors was given credence by solidly good reviews and when it was shown on Sky Arts, I recorded it. I had heard of - and seen Parker Posey in films before, though.

Henry Fool covers vast areas of literary philosophy and it is itself literary in its sheer story-telling. Ever intriguing, the characters jump off the screen, larger-than-life, yes, but, oh, so honestly displayed, we feel we know these individuals, like they were friends and neighbours.

James Urbaniak, as the gangly, bespectacled refuse collector, Simon, whose social graces are near nil, who we see right at the start stumbling across a fornicating couple, is superb. Via several narrative routes, Simon gets to meet up with roguish, ex-con (sex offender) Faustian, Henry Fool, who is a confident, scruffy novelist (Thomas Jay Ryan). Henry gets Simon to write, in an attempt to get his thoughts and feelings out and to communicate better with the world.

Over the film's two-and-a-quarter hours, we witness Henry messing up his life more and more - getting Simon's sister (Posey) pregnant and drinking into addiction and getting further into debt. Meanwhile, Simon's poetry is cautiously received, initially cited as 'pornographic' but daring and brilliant, culminating in a Nobel Prize. Henry, meanwhile, always on the cusp (but never getting there) of finishing his own great memoirs, being actually rather untalented, falls further apart.

What ensues from Hartley's Cannes-winning screenplay is a detailed, original and very realistic tale of two oddballs and their surrounding loved ones and associates, which never rushes either them, nor us.

The sparse, atmospheric score (also attributed to Hal Hartley - source IMDb) superbly adds to the feel and tone of the film.

This indie flick is probably too oddball and has no star names to draw it from near obscurity into the mainstream. Not only is it immensely enjoyable but involving and engaging, too. I usually delete films from my provider's box, once seen, but this one I want to see again. Fine film.
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on 10 March 2010
This is an age "in which we are camped like bewildered travellers in a garish, unrestful hotel" [Joseph Conrad - Victory]. Which adequately describes the protagonists in this film. The irony is that - like our own - their lives can and do change. Simon becomes a poet and saviour, Henry returns to being a charlatan but finally redeems himself, Faye becomes a responsible and firm mother. On the way, there are many confused events, some entertaining some hilarious!
The film then, is an ironic reflection on (or of) life. Just like life it can be accused of being slightly over-long but that is its one fault.
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on 22 March 2013
As a Hal Hartley fan, this didn't disappoint, independent cinema and screenwriting at its best. I'm not often wowed so comforting to know Hal is still one of the chief mustard cutters. Recommended.
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on 19 May 2003
Hal is such a sensitve director and this film excels on so many levels. With a fantastic music score with a continuous theme that allows the viewer to absorb themselves into the feelings, action, emotions and situations of the characters. Saturated with "real" and giving us the dramatic effect the written word can have on people - this literally is story telling at its best.
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