Henry Poole is Here

If the Wilson brothers were the Baldwins, then Luke Wilson would be Stephen Baldwin.

While he has certainly held in his own in some quality films (Old School, 3:10 To Yuma, Idiocracy), a majority of his work appears to be motivated by the almighty dollar (Charlie’s Angels, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Vacancy, and the lowest of low – the Jessica Simpson vehicle Blonde Ambition). So it’s startlingly surprising to see that his latest film, Henry Poole Is Here, is one with heart, warmth, and even some ideals to think about on the ride home.

Wilson plays the titular Poole, a sloppy, depressed man hell-bent on not caring about anything that crosses his path. He’s rude to neighbors, supermarket cashiers, and realtors that are simply trying to engage him in conversation or even trying to help him. It’s extremely difficult to sympathize with Henry, or even like him, until we find out about his situation, and what has caused him to behave like this.

The story picks up rather quickly when his neighbor, Esperanza, believes that she has found the abstract face of Jesus Christ on the side of his house. Henry refuses to acknowledge this, even staring down several outright miracles just to dismiss them as coincidence or flukes. Before long, though, and with the help of an overly depressed little girl living next door, Henry finds it tough to turn a blind eye towards these happenings. It all eventually leads to a finale that is both predictable and indulgent, but also happens to be very enjoyable, which is very rare these days.

Luke Wilson is acceptable in this role, although he doesn’t do too much outside of his usual range. The real stars of this film are Adriana Barraza as Henry’s neighbor Esperanza, who acts as the counterbalance to his skepticism, and Morgan Lily as Millie, the mute neighbor girl who inspires and eventually discourages Henry’s belief in the powers of the Jesus face. Radha Mitchell plays Dawn, Millie’s mother and the object of Henry’s affection in a wholly unnecessary romantic sub-plot. George Lopez makes a cameo appearance as Esperanza’s priest and plays it low-key enough to make it believable.

Director Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies, Arlington Road) deftly walks the tightropes between simply provoking emotion and manipulating it for most of the film’s run time.  At times, he overdoes the “indie rock” soundtrack and the panning shots of clouds to portray deep thinking, but mostly he keeps the balance in check. Henry Poole Is Here is a film about faith and skepticism and what happens when you indulge too much in either, and it’ll have you wondering where you are and where you might want to be in the middle of the two.

4 / 5 stars