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Henry Poole is Here Review

By Joe Lozito

He of little faith


We don't learn much about Henry Poole in "Henry Poole is Here", director Mark Pellington's earnest but stubbornly somber parable of hope and hopelessness. Henry himself doesn't say much. And when he does it's usually in a barely audible whisper. What we do know is that Henry pays the asking price for an unassuming tract house in southern California without even the slightest bit of negotiation. He's also prone to say things like, "I won't be here long". It seems that Henry, subsisting on a diet of pizza, donuts and wine, is determined to curl up and die in his sparsely-furnished domicile. He might have done it too, if it weren't for those meddling suburban neighbors.

Henry's self-imposed exile is shattered when nosey neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barraza, undeniably charming), bearing a welcome-to-the-block plate of tamales, notices a familiar shape in a water stain on the wall in Henry's backyard. Could it be the face of Christ? And what's that red droplet falling from its eye? This mystery brings a series of unwelcome visitors to Henry's doorstep, including Father Salazar (George Lopez, playing it nicely straight) and local checkout girl Patience (Rachel Seiferth), with her Coke-bottle glasses and sweetly awkward face (she's also apt to improbably quote Noam Chomsky).

Most importantly, Henry's newfound fame attracts the attention of Millie (Morgan Lily), an angelic six-year-old with the round, impossible face of a "Close Encounters" alien. Millie hasn't spoken in a year, much to the dismay of her radiant single mother, Dawn (Radha Mitchell, playing the next door neighbor of some screenwriter's fantasy).

"Henry Poole" is a sweetly sincere 100 minutes, but it's eventually a bit much. The script, by Albert Torres, is full of fortune cookie wisdom ("You can't go to the past to fix the future", "Maybe we have to be sad just to feel something") and the characters wander about their suburban surroundings as though none of them has, needs or wants a job. They come and go as the script demands; everyone serves exactly the purpose he or she is meant to, and lessons are learned all around in a (literally) fourth-wall-shattering finale.

In the end, Henry himself remains a cipher. As played by Luke Wilson, in a surprisingly fine performance which brings to mind uncomfortable but respectful echoes of brother Owen's recent depression, Henry is meant to be the Everyman. We learn something of his childhood, but virtually nothing between then and the opening of the film. We're meant to fill in the gaps with our own experience - the better, it would seem, to identify with his journey.

Mr. Torres isn't shy about its beliefs, nor, it seems, is Mr. Pellington, whose previous films ("Arlington Road," "The Mothman Prophecies") never hinted at "Poole". The shape on the wall clearly takes on classically Christian attributes, but regardless of theology, like those who worship at Henry's wall, you're likely to take from "Henry Poole" what you bring to it. It won't change your beliefs or even challenge your faith but, for a time, it might give you hope.

What did you think?

Movie title Henry Poole is Here
Release year 2008
MPAA Rating PG
Our rating
Summary Sincere, relentlessly somber parable about a severely depressed man whose self-imposed suburban exile is upended by a familiarly-shaped stain on his wall.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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