A blue collar family (shy rubbish collector Simon(Urbaniak), his depressed mother (Porter), and nymphomaniac sister (Posey))'s life is disrupted by the arrival of homespun intellectual-cum-egomaniac Henry Fool (Ryan). With his encouragement, Simon becomes a celebrated porno-poet, while Henry sets about seducing his mum and sis.
For his sixth feature, American indie hero Hal Hartley has pulled off a neat trick. He has turned out a film that is the same as his impressive back catalogue - quirky talk-driven curiosities about people living on the fringes of society - yet somehow different, managing to imbue his usual obsessions with the freshness and vitality of a first-time director.
All the usual Hartley trademarks - oblique observations, zero degree humour, the experimentation with storytelling conventions - are thrown into the mix but what distinguishes Henry Fool from his previous movies is the skewed satire about the "real" world (everything from publishing to politics), a dash of (literal) toilet humour and a touching demeanour toward its characters' flaws and aspirations. Ryan is intimidating as Henry, at once forceful yet pitiable, and Posey lends layers of decency and complexity to her potentially one-note sex bomb. But the film finds its real centre in Urbaniak, his quiet demeanour growing gradually affective as the film progresses.
A tad too long, and the second half fails to deliver on the promise of the first, but Hartley's confident handling of the broad canvas is deft and controlled. It may not bring him to a wider audience but this emerges as one of Hartley's most interesting, accessible and enjoyable efforts to date.
Reviewed by Ian Freer