Henry Fool [1997]

Simon (James Urbaniak), a shy garbage man, lives with his sister (Parker Posey of Party Girl and Waiting for Guffman, among dozens of other movies) and mother, who both treat him with minimal respect. Into Simon's life comes Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a heavy-drinking self-proclaimed great writer who goads Simon into writing an enormous poem. The poem becomes the source of great controversy, proclaimed by some as a great work of art, denounced by others as perverse trash. As Simon's star rises, he tries to draw attention to Henry's work as well, to little avail. Though the premise seems simple, Henry Fool takes on something of an epic sweep as it follows the effects of fame on Simon's and Henry's lives. This rumination on art and inspiration was hailed by some critics as the best film yet by writer-director Hal Hartley (Trust, Simple Men, Amateur), while others felt it brought out his worst self-indulgences. All of Hartley's movies defy easy interpretation, and Henry Fool is no exception. Still, it's a rare film that even tries to tackle such subjects, let alone does so with a combination of intelligence and humor (ranging from verbal quirkiness to scatological embarrassment). Hartley's films, surprisingly enough, feel warmer and more accessible on video; perhaps watching them in one's home makes them seem more intimate and less abstract. --Bret Fetzer

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