Faith is a funny thing. What other aspect of one's life demands so much and yet typically yields such fleeting pragmatic rewards? Conviction is usually couched in terms of a higher power, but we also demand belief in ourselves and in our fellow man. In fact, what's clear about faith is that it penetrates far too many facets of our lives -- or, at least, that's what Mark Pellington
wants us to see with his quirky character dramedy Henry Poole Is Here. While our hero is having a hard time facing the realities of his fleeting existence, his neighbors are more than willing to throw aside common sense for a glimpse of God's hand.
You see, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson
) is dying. He has an unnamed disease which his doctor (Richard Benjamin) swears will "steamroll" through him. Hoping to reconnect with his past, Henry moves back to his home town. When he can't purchase his old house, he settles for a dilapidated number down the street. After he moves in, his nosy neighbor Esperanza (Adrianna Barraza
) notices a watermark on his wall. To Henry, it's the sign of a bad stucco job. For her, it's the face of Christ. It's not long before the genial Father Salazar (George Lopez
) arrives to conduct a Church-sponsored investigation. Even without confirmation, the smudge cures a little mute girl, much to her mother's (Radha Mitchell
) amazement and helps a nearly blind girl named Patience (Rachel Seiferth
) see. But the big questions remains: Will it help Henry? Or can anything? Article continues below
There are two different Mark Pellingtons on display in Henry Poole Is Here. One is the MTV mastermind who brought Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" and Silverchair's "Tomorrow" to life. This Pellington plies his trade throughout this minor movie's frequently moody montages. Whenever our characters need to have a moment of contemplation, a track by The Eels comes pouring out of the speakers, accompanied by carefully photographed suburban vistas. This Pellington is purposefully oblique, leaving the viewer unable to make proper connections or figure out the meaning of things. The other Pellington is the man behind such films as Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies. This director deals in faces and facts, the camera closing in on his actors so they can deliver their big picture pronouncements while crying on cue.
This doesn't make Henry Poole Is Here a bad movie, just a confused and ultimately hollow one. It's clear we are supposed to see this occasionally likeable fable as an allegory for our own need for personal and spiritual strength. In a world gone rotten with war and distrust, the friendly people in Henry's neighborhood represent literal paragons of virtue, each one testing our hero until he finally sees the (inner) light. Sometimes, we tolerate the lessons. Seiferth is so open and earnest as Patience we can't hate her compassion. But Barraza is such a busy body, butting into Henry's business for her own selfish, sacrosanct reasons that we keep waiting for the Rapture to come along and take her up.
But the main problem here remains the two Pellingtons. While they finally kiss and make up near the end, they still impart way too much significance into things we aren't privy to or passionate about. Henry has a past loaded with family fights. It's all hints, however, with no real specifics. Similarly, his relationship with Mitchell (who is good here) has promise, but no real bite. Truthfully, the best thing one can say about Henry Poole Is Here is that it is a religious film where theology is barely recognizable. Some of the characters would call this a miracle. Audiences will find it slightly less extraordinary.