Nothing that writer/director Hal Hartley ("The Unbelievable Truth," "Simple Men," "Trust," "Amateur," "Flirt") has previously created will prepare you for the hilarious, vulgar, poetic, moving, satirical, elegiac, outrageously madcap free-for-all that is "Henry Fool."

Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) is an unassuming garbageman who supports his depressed mother (Maria Porter) and his oversexed sister (Parker Posey). Their uneventful lives are disrupted one day when a mysterious stranger named Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) appears out of nowhere and takes up residence in the Grim family basement. Loud, chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, a colossal egomaniac and self-styled intellectual, Henry may be the most depraved man in town.

I go where I will and I do what I can.

Henry Fool, it turns out, has devoted his life to writing his memoirs, his "Confession," a sprawling opus which he expects to blow a massive hole through the literary establishment-- that is, if he ever gets around to finishing it. Taking the taciturn garbageman under his wing, Fool helps the young man overcome his low self-esteem by urging him to write as well. The result is a book-length poem which makes Simon world-famous while his mentor's book is dismissed as inept and pretentious.

After exploring the miniature with his previous effort, "Flirt," Hartley uses an epic canvas for "Henry Fool," training his ironic eye on a host of supporting characters including: a thrill-seeking young man (Kevin Corrigan) who becomes a buttoned-down political canvasser; a mute Vietnamese cashier (Miho Nikaido) who starts singing after reading Simon's iambic pentameter; a mercenary publisher (Chuck Montgomery) who sees dollar signs (if not literary virtue) in Simon's verse; a doubting priest (Nicholas Hope) who helps Simon broker his book deal; and even a tongue-in-cheek appearance by Camille Paglia as herself.

Thomas Jay Ryan (in his screen debut) is a revelation as Henry Fool, with James Urbaniak ("The Sticky Fingers of Time") making an equally strong impression in the quieter role of Simon. And Parker Posey ("The Daytrippers,""Waiting for Guffman," "House of Yes") gives one of her most compelling performances to date as Simon's acid-tongued nymphomaniac sister.

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