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Henry Fool (1997)
An honest man is always in trouble...
Filmmaker(s): Hal Hartley

An egocentric bum transforms the lives of a shy New Jersey garbageman and his sister.

Henry Fool (1997)

We See The Poem

Hartley is a major talent, a unique, competent voice in a bramble of sameness. The last project I saw was “No Such Thing,” which is one of those that if you don’t actively avoid it, it hits you deep in your soul and changes you.

Like most Hartley projects, it was more abstract and pure than usual. All theatrical projects are abstract, in fact they need to be abstract to seem real. But these projects, and especially “Thing” were abstract in unusual ways that were carefully sculpted as artistic statements with power.

It is a sophisticated method for what I call “folding,” where the nature of the presentation is explicit in the presentation, and carries much of the message, the art.

But this is different. It is celebrated because it is more “normal,” and it has performances that seem close to what we normally see. In this, he’s found a sort of sweet spot between the highly formal approach of his other projects and the acceptably strange stuff we get from, say Wes Anderson, or in “Napolian Dynamite” or “Igby Goes Down.“

It still has lots of talk, and talk about talk and writing and media, Hartley topics.

But all in all, I was disappointed. I wouldn’t have been so if it were not a Hartley project. But I know he can cut deeply with his deviations. This seems too safe.

The odd thing is that the device in the story is a poem that is so weird and powerful it changes lives, falls magically on lives. It is rejected by the folks looking for normal stuff but carries the poet to fame just based on its effectiveness. This is Hartley’s usual tack, but this film is too conventional to cut deeply.

Yes, it has superb performances. Even a one minute scene with a girl in a library (Rachel Miner) who gets an anonymous, personal poem, is so deftly done, that one scene inspires a whole imagined future.

But because there is better, more unique poetry from this man, I’ll direct you elsewhere in his work.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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