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3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Henry Poole Is Here
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Luke To A Higher Power"
1 stars

“Henry Poole is Here” is less a film than the cinematic equivalent of a wide-eyed puppy dog--it is so sincere and kind-hearted and eager to please that only an ogre would even consider smacking it down for its various indiscretions. And yet, I guess that I have to be that ogre because while it is well-meaning as all get out, that doesn’t make up for the fact that it is one of the gloppiest and most turgidly sentimental films to come around the bend in a long, long time. It wants to make viewers ask themselves big questions about faith and love and belief in a higher power but as it goes about its painfully well-intentioned path to a true cinematic Hell, the only big question you may be asking yourself will probably be “What could [fill in the name of any of the talented people inexplicably involved here] have possibly been thinking when they signed on for this project?”

Luke Wilson stars as Henry Poole, a morose individual who has just learned from his doctor (Richard Benjamin) that he has only a short time to live. At a loss, Henry, whom we can clearly discern wasn’t exactly a bundle of good cheer even before his terminal diagnosis, decides to buy a house in the grim neighborhood where he spent his decidedly unhappy childhood and shut himself off from the world while drinking away his remaining days. Of course, this simple wish proves to be difficult to achieve at first, thanks to the well-meaning intrusions of his neighbors--the kind-hearted and devoutly religious Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), the attractive and available Dawn (Radha Mitchell) and Millie, Dawn’s adorable daughter who has been mute ever since her father left a year earlier--and Patience (Rachel Seiferth), the visually challenged store clerk who is perhaps too friendly for her own good, and it quickly becomes impossible when Esperanza becomes convinced that a water stain on the side of his house, the result of a bad stucco job (oh, how he got stuccoed, to paraphrase Groucho Marx), contains the image of Jesus and starts bringing people into his yard in order to pay homage to it. Understandably, Henry doesn’t believe in any of this and just wants to be left alone and not even the revelation that the stain may contain miraculous powers--after touching it, Millie is able to speak again and Patience is able to get rid of her Coke-bottle glasses--is enough to move him that much. Eventually, Dawn (whose name may be symbolic, if I am not mistaken) begins to get him to come out of his shell, at least long enough to set up both a tragic reversal of fortune and a miraculous conclusion that comes as a surprise only in the sense that you can’t believe that screenwriter Albert Torres actually thought that he could get away with it.

On the surface, “Henry Poole is Here” may seem like little more than a lamely drawn fable about the power of love and faith to overcome even the most dire of circumstances but if you look at it a little deeper, it becomes a creepy indictment on the evils of science and rational thought that becomes borderline offensive after a while. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of a film espousing the joys of religious faith in theory--several episodes of “The Simpsons” has done this in a smart and even-handed manner while still maintaining their irreverent humor. What I object to is the way that they present anyone who doesn’t automatically lean that way as some kind of inherent monster. Consider the accusatory way in which Esperanza attempts to shame Henry by pointing a finger at him and repeatedly booming “Don’t you believe in God?” Consider the scene in which Patience (whose name may be symbolic, if I am not mistaken) offers up her views against the evils of science, even going so far as to cite Noam Chomsky (whom I am sure will be thrilled by the shout-out), while waiting on Henry in the store. Consider the fact that the film paints the patrons of science in such monstrous terms that the doctors who are so eager to make life-and-death pronouncements are shown here to be too incompetent to even take a simple blood sample without turning Henry into a human pincushion. The only thing that saves this stuff from actually becoming really offensive is the fact that it is all done in such a ham-fisted and hilariously unsubtle manner that it is impossible to take much of it too seriously, especially the serious parts.

The strangest thing about “Henry Poole is Here” is that for what is essentially a low-rent piece of Christian propaganda, the kind of thing to show at a fundraiser the next time someone wants to sue a school district to get the pesky evolution crap out of the classroom, is that the material was somehow able to attract a number of talented actors and director Mark Pellington, whose previous efforts have included music videos for Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails and Bruce Springsteen and the paranoid thrillers “Arlington Road” and “The Mothman Prophecies,“ even though it quickly becomes clear that the material isn’t a good fit for any of them. Wilson looks decidedly uncomfortable throughout while the other actors repeatedly strike the single notes they have been given to play. As for Pellington, he directs the film with such a bland and anonymous touch that you never get any real sense of personal investment in the material--the only times that he seems connected come during the numerous musical montages that feel more like random music videos than integral parts of the narrative. Which brings me back to my original question--what could these people have possibly been thinking when they signed up for this project? Maybe they all read the screenplay and took it as a matter of faith that it would somehow pull itself together into something truly meaningful and inspiring. My guess is that after watching the final product, they all slunk away like a group of doomsday zealots heading back home from the desert after the passing of the date of their hoped-for rapture--sheepish, vaguely embarrassed and ready to immerse themselves in studies of the life and work of Charles Darwin.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16924&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/15/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/09/09 Anonymous. i loved the way it ended. :] 4 stars
8/18/08 George Barksdale Worth the look 4 stars
8/15/08 Marshall Louis Fantastic 5 stars
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  15-Aug-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 04-Nov-2008


  DVD: 04-Nov-2008

Directed by
  Mark Pellington

Written by
  Albert Torres

  Luke Wilson
  Radha Mitchell
  Cheryl Hines
  Adriana Barraza

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