January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Henry Fool

Current Status
In Season
James Urbaniak, Thomas Jay Ryan, Kevin Corrigan, Parker Posey
Hal Hartley
Comedy, Drama
We gave it an A-

As imagined by writer-director Hal Hartley, the New York borough of Queens is a zone as stylized as Whit Stillman’s Manhattan or David Mamet’s Guyville. As deployed in Henry Fool, that style sustains an affecting (if affected) poise between philosophical fable and gross-out comedy. Thomas Jay Ryan makes his screen debut as swaggering, shuddering Henry Fool, a highbrow ex-con boarding with the Grim family. Henry puts the make on sister Fay (Parker Posey, luminously bratty even when proposed to from a toilet seat) while mentoring her sad-sack brother Simon (reedy James Urbaniak) as he writes an outrageous epic poem about societal rot. The film may not carry the cataclysmic force of Simon’s verse, but the dexterity with which Hartley muses on the entropy of values moral, aesthetic, and political marks it as his own magnum opus. A-

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