A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dryly funny spy movie satire probably won't interest younger viewers (unless they're into conversations about aesthetics, morality, and recent global and economic history ...). A running joke touches on pornography, and a 14-year-old supposedly gets a blow job at school (nothing is shown). Violence is pretty minor (shooting and some fighting, a couple of bloody wounds and falls) and shot in a highly stylized manner with exaggerated handheld camerawork. Lots of smoking and some swearing (mostly "f--k").
What's the story?
Long estranged from Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan), Fay (Parker Posey) is increasingly worried that their 14-year-old son Ned (Liam Aiken) is becoming like his father. When he's expelled for misbehaving in school, she decides it's crucial to get her brother Simon (James Urbaniak) -- "the incarcerated garbage man-poet of Woodside, Queens" -- out of prison so that Ned can be influenced by a different father figure. To this end, she agrees to go along with a proposal by CIA Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum) and his partner, young Fogg (Leo Fitzpatrick), who want her to pursue a missing volume of Henry's unpublished "confessions." The agents believe both that the work will reveal the locations of Israeli nuclear missile sites and that an array of nations (China, Germany, Belgium) are desperate to keep the intel secret. But Fay is concerned only with doing the right thing -- by Henry, Ned, and the various other agents she comes to know during her adventure.
Is it any good?
Incisive, funny, and often oddly affecting, this film proposes that international intrigues result from small minds grappling with gigantic problems. "For my sins," says CIA Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum), "I was sent to the middle of nowhere." The screen then cuts to "Afghanistan 1989," where Fulbright's counterterrorist conniving is bound to be thwarted. It's hard to tell throughout FAY GRIM when -- or if -- Fulbright is ever telling the truth, but this flashback seems particularly cagey, as he's recalling the moment when the United States used a certain self-proclaimed Saudi to undermine Russian efforts in the region. Here, the Arab's name is Jallal Said Khan (Anatole Taubman), but his resemblance to Osama Bin Laden is undeniable. Such blatant name (or face) dropping makes Fay Grim seem more topical than it is. In fact, Hal Hartley's sequel to Henry Fool is less concerned with the details of contemporary spycraft and deception than with broader moral questions. And as untrustworthy and experienced as Agent Fulbright may be, he's no match for Fay (Parker Posey).
The plot gets increasingly intricate, with all kinds of agents and terrorists pretending to be someone else, but Fay remains steadfastly Fay. Fay isn't so naïve as to believe that she'll discover a "truth," but she does want to believe that her efforts aren't in vain. Meanwhile, goodhearted Simon and his earnest publisher, Angus (Chuck Montgomery), pursue Fay, deducing -- rightly, of course, -- that the CIA won't look out for her best interests. Fay Grim reinforces the spies' lack of faith through shadowy flashbacks, dead-ends, and persistently too-clever compositions. But it's not actually cynical. And Fay, so seemingly "grim" and even despairing at first, ends up a model of generosity and probing insight.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what this movie is satirizing. Are there certain spy movie conventions that it's spoofing? What are they? What makes something a satire? Are satires always funny? Families can also discuss how the movie's spies and terrorists behave similarly -- and how they're different.
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