HENRY FOOL (DVD)

3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 127 minutes
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I honestly thought this would be The One. Not a monster box office hit, but a financially successful film that would catapult Hal Hartley to a slightly larger sphere of influence, with newly acquired fans and guaranteed funding for the next few projects. Maybe a small feature in Time magazine or something. 

I realize Hartley’s style will never translate to the mainstream box office, where glitz rules and you have to hide a great story under the bitchin’ special effects if you want viewers to find it, but I thought maybe his films would reach wider acceptance with “Henry Fool.” Certainly all the ingredients are there: universal themes of acceptance, artistic integrity, and intellectual dishonesty; sex and vulgarity; humorous dialogue. Maybe the problem for most viewers is that Hartley approaches such things from a skewed perspective: the sex happens at wildly inappropriate moments; the vulgarity doesn’t include fart jokes; the humorous comments are deadpan. 

“Henry Fool” tells the story of Simon Grim, a garbage man who supports his chronically depressed mother, Mary (Maria Porter), and slut-about-town sister, Fay (Parker Posey), with his job. Unhappy but unsure what to do about it, he gets a kick in the ass from Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), who shows up unexpectedly one day and takes up residence in the family’s basement. When Henry discovers Simon’s secret writings, he encourages him to pursue his creative side. In his naiveté, Simon doesn’t realize that Henry is really a pseudo intellectual who’s more con man than artist. This being a Hal Hartley film, when Simon discovers the truth, the sparks don’t really fly so much as languidly pop in an ironic way. Perhaps that’s why this movie didn’t quite become a minor indie phenomenon. 

Like Hartley’s other recent releases from Sony Pictures Classics, this DVD doesn’t have much in the way of extras. Actually, there aren’t any extras, aside from trailers for the movies “Auto Focus,” “Laurel Canyon,” and “Pollock.” Why no trailer for this film? I have no idea. It’s on the official web site, although you have to put up with a tiny QuickTime window if you want to watch it there. As I said in my review of the DVD for Amateur, it’s a shame that Sony overlooked something basic like a trailer and doesn’t seem willing to pony up a few bucks for a commentary from Hartley. Given the lavish treatment that some cult classics get on DVD these days, it seems like Hartley’s fans would love releases, especially a really good movie like “Henry Fool,” with at least a half Special Edition complement of extras. So while this film is a four-star effort, I have to knock half a star off because Sony doesn’t take advantage of all that DVD has to offer when it comes to Hal Hartley. 

Yeah, I’m a big meanie.



Posted on January 31, 2004 in Reviews by
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