Henry Poole Is Here
A not-so-convincing character study gets bogged down, failing to succeed in either of its goals--as compelling drama or to give spiritual enlightenment.
Set in the heart of suburbia, this dour and listless tale revolves around the dark soul of the humorless Henry Poole (Luke Wilson)--a man whose life has careened out of control. Looking for reinvigoration, he returns to the bland suburban neighborhood of his youth hoping it will turn his mojo around and give him solitary comfort and peace. He buys a house for full price and tries to settle in, but his hopes to be left alone are dashed by three female neighbors. First is a nosy woman, Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), who is convinced she sees the stucco image of Christ on the side of his house. Then there's the solemn 8 year-old Millie (Morgan Lily), who has taken a complete vow of silence since the divorce of her parents. Finally, there is her mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell), who tries to reignite a passion in Henry. As crowds drawn by the Christ-like image begin to mushroom in his backyard--including a priest (George Lopez) who tries to counsel him--Henry is diagnosed with a terminal illness making him question his own faith in God and the quality of his life.
Luke Wilson fails to convince as the soulless Henry Poole, a self-absorbed man throwing his own pity party. He's so anti-social and morose through most of the film that the audience has a tough time connecting with his plight, even as his life is threatened. Blame the script or Wilson himself for making Poole such an unattractive stick-in-the-mud. Young Lily, as the near-autistic child next door, plays it with mystical abandon, but the role seems contrived. The normally reliable Mitchell doesn't have a clue where her character seems to be going and fails to tap into her true emotional register. Lopez, normally an upbeat comedic presence in films and TV, plays it low-key here, effective but forgettable. Stealing the film is Barraza, the wonderful Oscar-nominated Mexican actress from Babel, who lifts the tempo considerably every time she is onscreen. She gets the intended spirit of the material and delivers line readings in a completely convincing and fresh manner. Her belief in Esperanza's own off-the-wall beliefs brings us to her side.Too bad everyone else seems to be in another picture.
Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) can't really locate a pulse in Albert Torres first-produced screenplay. Pellington approaches the story, meant to be uplifting and inspiring, in a slow-handed way--letting any chance for real dramatic sparks to fade away. Small human character studies like this need more invention in the telling to make up the lack of pizzazz inherent in the premise. What he does achieve nicely is the look and feel and a '40s or '50s-style middle class Southern California neighborhood lit by the bright sun but lacking in any kind of style or personality. When the figure of Christ is spotted on a non-descript wall of stucco, it's the first time this street has ever come to life. That works, but the whole point of the story--the deeply religious spiritual underpinnings--don't quite come across the way the director and screenwriter intended. Henry Poole Is Here remains ultimately a failure--a noble effort but misguided and largely bloodless.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.