Fay Grim is the sequel to Hal Hartley’s 1997 film Henry Fool, in which Queens garbage man Simon Fool (James Urbaniak) was befriended by the eponymous hero (Thomas Jay Ryan), who encouraged his literary ambitions. Simon wins the Nobel Prize for his poetry, Henry marries Simon’s sister Fay (Parker Posey) and they have a son, but at the film’s conclusion Henry flees the country to avoid arrest, leaving Simon to take the rap for aiding him. This back story is skillfully established in the first 20 minutes of the film, which is set seven years after Henry’s disappearance. Fay is a single mother, her son Ned (Liam Aiken) is 14 and in trouble at school, and Simon is in prison for his role in Henry’s escape. These parts are all reprised by the original actors.
The plot is set in motion when Angus (Chuck Montgomery), Simon’s publisher, tells Fay that he would like to find and publish Henry’s “Confessions,” a series of notebooks he wrote and claimed were a literary masterpiece. While everyone who has read them views them as garbage, Angus and Simon now believe that the books are in code and that Henry was a former secret agent. This theory is confirmed when two CIA agents (Jeff Goldblum and Leo Fitzpatrick) ask her to help them retrieve two of the notebooks from Paris. In exchange, Fay demands that Simon be released from jail. Soon she is engaged in a game of cat and mouse with agents from Israel, France and the U.S., and wondering whom she can trust. Along the way she meets Bebe (Elina Löwensohn), whom the CIA claims is a spy, but who tells Fay she is merely a stewardess who fell in love with Henry as he escaped the United States.
It’s difficult to categorize this film: part comedy, part drama, part spy caper. The tiff, disjointed dialogue at the beginning and the constantly tilting camera angles make the viewer slow to enter the world of the film, but as the film progresses, the engaging story and the strength of Parker’s performance draw the viewer in. Ultimately, it’s a well-done film, but won’t appeal to a mass audience.