[Screen It]


(1998) (Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak) (R)

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Drama/Comedy: A self-styled intellectual creates a phenomenal poet out of an unassuming and stoic garbage man.
Simon Grim (JAMES URBANIAK) is an unassuming, stoic garbage man who spends his time watching a two-bit lowlife, Warren (KEVIN CORRIGAN), have sex in an alley when not throwing garbage into a trash compactor day in and day out. Living with his depressed mother, Mary (MARIA PORTER), and his nymphomaniac sister, Fay (PARKER POSEY), Simon doesn't seem to know or care that his life is dull.

Things change, however, when a mysterious stranger, Henry Fool (THOMAS JAY RYAN), takes up residence in their basement apartment. His chain-smokes and guzzles beer and his egomaniacal, self-professed intellectualistic demeanor instantly mesmerizes Simon. Seeing the simpleton's interest in his bound series of notebooks that contain his "great," but unpublished novel of his confessions, Henry gives Simon a notebook and tells him to write down what he thinks and feels.

Soon, Simon has filled the notebook with prose that's grammatically weak, but flows in iambic pentameter, causing Henry to realize that his protégé has ample amounts of untapped talent. Tutoring him in grammar and the ways of the world while hanging out in a local deli run by Mr. Deng (JAMES SAITO) and his mute cashier, Gnoc Deng (MIHO NIKAIDO), Henry realizes that Simon may be his ticket to getting his own novel published.

Accordingly, Henry then publicly posts bits of Simon's ever-evolving poem, and it begins to have a mysterious but profound effect on anyone and everyone who reads it. Some call it pornographic, while others are moved by its content, and Simon quickly becomes famous. At the same time, Henry, who has a weakness for anyone of the opposite sex regardless of their age, has affairs with both Mary and Fay, while Warren begins an abusive relationship with Vicky (JAN LESLIE HARDING), a single mom.

As Simon tries to get advice from a wayward priest, Father Hawkes (NICHOLAS HOPE), and tries to get a successful publisher, Angus James (CHUCK MONTGOMERY), to represent his work, he begins to realize the effects that fame and notoriety can have on friends, family and total strangers.

Unless they're fans of writer/director Hartley or someone in the cast, it's extremely unlikely any kids will be looking to see this one.
For strong sexuality, violence and language.
  • THOMAS JAY RYAN plays a beer guzzling, chain smoking and self-proclaimed intellectual who served time in prison for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, and has the same with Simon's mother and sister.
  • JAMES URBANIAK plays the stoic and unassuming garbage man who becomes famous for writing an epic poem that moves some readers, but causes others to label it as "scatological" and "pornographic" (we never hear any of it).
  • PARKER POSEY plays Simon's chain smoking and nymphomaniacal sister who casually has sex with several guys, including Henry.


    OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
    Being considered a "tease" isn't a good thing, and most people learn to stay away from others who wet the appetite, so to speak, but then don't deliver anything worth the playful wait. When done in a movie, the raising of the audience's curiosity is a wonderful cinematic device, but likewise is only good if something worthwhile is delivered in return for the tease. If nothing comes of that anticipation, the audience's enthusiasm can quickly turn to alienation, anger or, worse yet, sheer boredom.

    That's what happens with Hal Hartley's latest offering, "Henry Fool." A favorite auteur at film festivals but quite anonymous among the general public, writer/director Hartley ("Flirt," "Amateur") teases the audience with the belief that something surprising, exciting, or at least interesting will develop after a long introduction that includes a bevy of odd and/or disturbed individuals. Unfortunately, none of that initial material amounts to anything much. Instead it becomes quite boring and loses most of its charming idiosyncrasies that at least made the first half of the film somewhat interesting.

    Hartley quickly sets out to heighten the audience's curiosity about all these characters and their circumstances and he succeeds. Most obviously, we want to know about Simon's controversial and epic poem, but the writer/director intentionally leaves us high and dry regarding its content.

    After seeing its ability to stir up so many emotions and physically affect people -- a mute woman suddenly sings after reading the poem, it brings on Kay's menstrual cycle a week and a half early, and is the catalyst for a later suicide -- our curiosity is understandably heightened and we want at least a small taste of the work. Hartley's little plot device, however, is just as empty and meaningless as Henry's "confessions" novel which itself also turns out to be yet another manipulative, teasing gimmick that fails to pay off.

    While Hartley has presumably done this on purpose to make the statement that art -- like beauty -- lies in the eye of the beholder, all it does is irritate the audience, particularly since that subject isn't new and he brings nothing insightful to the discussion. Along the same lines, the filmmaker has populated the story with superfluous characters with their own little storylines that do nothing but diffuse the main plot.

    There's the abusive husband who briefly, but inexplicably begins campaigning for a political candidate in a subplot that's neither explored nor ultimately adds up to anything. Then there's the mute clerk, a wayward priest, and a parole officer who loiter about the film as if they walked onto the set during shooting and were unquestionably allowed to stay.

    It's as if Hartley has dumped an odd combination of ingredients into this "soup" and -- by individually pointing them out -- hopes that some sort of congruous context will miraculously develop. Not surprisingly, it doesn't, and the audience is left with a hodgepodge of material that never amounts, or adds up to, anything.

    The performances -- representing a wide array of quirky, depressed, and despicable characters -- are initially interesting, but begin to wane in the film's second half. Thomas Jay Ryan makes his feature film debut with this picture, and uses something of an odd and exaggerated approach to playing his character that constantly reminded me of someone spoofing Robert Wagner. While part of that was hopefully done on purpose, his often stilted dialogue and the odd rhythm of his vocal delivery will irritate those who don't find it unique.

    James Urbaniak, who's appeared in some little seen "indie" films, plays the sudden literary genius, and delivers an interesting take on his odd character. Even so, I never experienced the sympathy for him that I thought I should and most of that is because we're never allowed to really know anything about what makes this guy tick. He claims that he's not a "retarded" (his words), but we don't ever find out what's behind his quirky demeanor.

    Parker Posey ("The House of Yes," "Dazed and Confused"), who's become quite good at playing quirky characters herself, is entertaining in her role as the sex-crazed, and off-balance sister, while the rest of the characters aren't developed enough for the performers who inhabit them to do very much.

    Part of the film's problem -- beyond the anticipatory letdown -- also lies with its unnatural and often forced dialogue. Although there's occasionally some funny or clever stuff, more often than not the material sounds like bits acclaimed playwright turned filmmaker David Mamet ("The Spanish Prisoner") would have tossed into the trash can, and the dialogue clearly isn't as clever or well-written as it pretends to be (despite winning the screenwriting prize at the Cannes film festival).

    Initially interesting despite an extremely disjointed and right to the point opening, the film turns into a let down which is all the more irritating after you realize that you've wasted more than two hours expecting something interesting to happen. This film might satisfy those at film festivals, but will never make it out in the "real world" because being offbeat just as a plot device alone doesn't make for a great movie. We give "Henry Fool" a 3.5 out of 10.

    Although it's extremely doubtful many kids -- or adults -- will want to see this film, here's a quick summary of its content. Profanity is extreme with more than 10 "f" words and an assortment of other words and phrases. We learn that Henry served time in prison for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, and we see his amorous encounters with Simon's mother and sister (movement and sounds, but no nudity). We also see a similarly presented encounter between two minor characters, while we hear Fay having sex with another man and see bare-breasted women in a nonsexual setting.

    Several main characters drink and smoke throughout the film, while several minor characters occasionally do drugs. While the film portrays Simon's work as pornographic and scatological, we never hear any of it. The film, however, occasionally delves into the latter of that material, including a graphic vomiting scene as well as the prolonged sounds of a severe case of diarrhea.

    Finally, a few violent moments occur during the movie, including several beatings (seen and implied by seeing the results), a suicide (seen afterwards), and a stabbing that may have led to a death (but that's never clarified). Should you or someone in your home wish to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at any of the content that may concern you.

  • We often see Henry and/or Simon holding and drinking a can of beer, while a few other characters occasionally drink beer.
  • A woman does a bong hit before having sex with Warren.
  • Fay pours Henry and herself some liquor, and he later has another shot.
  • It looked like Warren held a joint in one scene and Fay later asks him if he still sells dope, but he says that he doesn't.
  • Simon sees Fay passed out on her bed holding a bottle of liquor.
  • Warren smokes a joint.
  • Vicky has a drink (twice and after Warren has hit her).
  • Henry gives his young son (7) a shot of liquor.
  • Vicky's teenager daughter has been drinking liquor and gives the bottle to Henry who takes a swig.
  • We see Simon graphically throw up on another person (by accident).
  • Simon's face is bruised and a little bloody after Warren beats him up.
  • We see that a person has committed suicide by slitting their wrists and there's blood on the floor and the water in the bathtub is tinted red.
  • We see some bruises (black eyes, etc...) on Vicky's face after Warren has beaten her.
  • Henry rushes in and sits on the toilet and we hear many loud and prolonged diarrhea sounds.
  • Vicky's nose is a little bloody as is Henry's face after he's hit them (at separate moments).
  • Henry lies somewhat about his past to Simon, and also doesn't like the concept of working (and therefore is always mooching money from others).
  • Warren has extreme cases of both, for not only does he badger Simon (forcing him over to kiss his girlfriend's bare butt), but he also beats another girlfriend/wife.
  • Fay and her mother laugh at Simon when he says he's writing a poem.
  • Henry admits to stealing the computer that he brings to Simon.
  • We learn that Henry spent seven years in prison for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. He later has sex with Mary who's doped up on prescription drugs.
  • Some may see a priest stating that he questions his faith as having a little of both.
  • Henry tells Simon that there are lots of "chicks" (women) in the library and that he should walk around, "leer a little, cop a feel..."
  • A publisher is very frank with Simon about the quality of his poem (he thinks it's awful), but when it becomes popular he wants to represent Simon.
  • Henry makes his young son (7) take a drag from a cigarette and a drink of liquor (in a strip bar where we later see him showing the boy how to put money in a stripper's garter).
  • A few scenes listed under "Violence" may be unsettling to some viewers, but none are downright frightening or suspenseful.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "F*ck off," "Dumb f*ck," "Eat sh*t and die," "Screwing" (sexual), "Kiss my ass," "Jerks," "Geek," "Freak," "Retard," "Chicks" (for women), "Shut up," "Slut," and "Idiot."
  • None.
  • A scene or two contains just a tiny bit of odd or unsettling music.
  • None.
  • At least 14 uses of the "f" word (2 used sexually as is the term "screwing," and 1 used with "mother"), 9 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals (the "c" word), 6 hells, 4 asses (1 used with "hole"), 1 damn, and 3 uses of "God," and 2 uses of "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • Simon hears some noises and walks over to see Warren having sex with a woman in an alley. We see movement (with Warren between her legs) and hear sounds, but don't see any nudity. Later, we do see the side of her bare butt, however, as she hikes up her skirt and tells Simon to "kiss my ass" (but he throws up on her instead).
  • Fay makes the comment, "God...I want to get f*cked," and we later hear her in her bedroom having sex with some guy that she picked up (sexual sounds and the squeaking of her bed).
  • Many people state that Simon's poem is pornography, but we never hear any of it.
  • Henry finds Fay seated in the kitchen wearing just a towel. He puts his hands down between her legs and then playfully chases her through part of the house. We then see Fay waiting on the bed for him (still wearing the towel), and she gets up to see what's taking him so long. Going back downstairs, she finds him having sex with her drugged up (from prescription pills) mother on the couch (we see movement and hear sounds, but don't see any nudity).
  • We see two bare-breasted women dancing with Henry at a strip club (and he puts his face between one of the women's breasts).
  • We learn that Henry spent seven years in prison for having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl.
  • Fay tells Simon that his poem (somehow) brought on her menstrual period a week and a half early.
  • Talking to a newspaper reporter about Simon's younger days, Fay says that "he masturbated a lot."
  • Henry looks through some porno magazines (but we only see the tops of their covers -- one is titled "Big Butt" and another is "Hustler" -- and don't see any nudity).
  • Henry and Fay have sex on a chair (after we see her hiking up her skirt, but no nudity). We see movement (him between her legs) and hear more sounds, but no nudity. We later learn that she's pregnant from this encounter.
  • Vicky's teenage daughter comments about hearing that Henry went to jail for having sex with a girl her age. She then asks him "do you want some?" She also tells him, "I"ll suck your c*ck if you kill him (Warren) for me."
  • A painting in Warren and Vicky's house shows a nude woman reclining on the floor (bare breasts).
  • Both Henry and Fay constantly smoke throughout the movie while a few other characters smoke once.
  • Henry gives his young son (7) a lit cigarette and makes him take a puff.
  • A family must deal with the death of a family member (from suicide), but the grieving doesn't last very long.
  • Warren is abusive to Vicky and occasionally to her daughter, who finally runs off from home and hides.
  • How "art" -- be it a painting, a written work, or even a movie -- can generate profoundly different reactions from people.
  • Spousal abuse.
  • Warren throws a bottle at Simon after seeing that he's been watching him and a woman have sex. In a latter scene, the woman throws a bottle and hits Simon on the head and Warren then proceeds to beat him up (he's later bloody and bruised and -- according to Fay -- reportedly has a broken rib and dislocated shoulder).
  • After he states that she has sex with many guys, Fay throws a pan of boiling water onto Simon's clothed back (we later see him in the tub -- still clothed -- in lots of ice).
  • Fay smacks Henry.
  • We see that a person has committed suicide by slitting their wrists.
  • We see the results of Warren beating Vicky (black eyes and bruises). We also see him slap Vicky's teenage daughter on the head.
  • Fay hits Henry in the gut in a bar/strip club after discovering that he's taken their son there.
  • Warren punches Henry in the gut and throws him to the floor. He then takes him into the kitchen where we hear more sounds of violence and then see Warren repeatedly kicking Henry (we only see Warren and not the impact). Henry then stabs Warren in the gut with a screwdriver (no blood, but possibly killing him).

  • Reviewed July 17, 1998

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