August 21, 2008

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Henry Poole Is Here (PG)
Luke Wilson is a man at a life crossroads whose house becomes a local shrine when a water stain that might or might not be the face of Jesus appears on his stucco in Henry Poole Is Here, a crisp little cucumber slice of a dramadey.

Henry Poole (Wilson) is a man in a dark place dealing with the devastating news that he’s only got a few months to live. Even before we learn about his medical prognosis, we know something in his life has broken — he buys a house solely for the purpose of spending his days there drinking and staring into the middle distance. The small portion of his diet that isn’t vodka is pizza and donuts. He shuns conversation and has a squinty “back off” reaction to being talked to.

Of course, with new houses come new neighbors and his depression- and quiet anger-created barrier against the world is no match for the nosiness of the motherly Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) or the inquisitiveness of Millie (Morgan Lily), the little girl next door who doesn’t talk but tapes all conversations within earshot on her tape recorder. Millie’s mom Dawn (Radha Mitchell) is amused when the weary Henry suddenly starts finding Esperanza and her church friends in his yard, praying to and leaving candles and cards for a rusty water stain that Esperanza claims is the face of Jesus Christ. She calls in her priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez) and, after the wall starts dripping red liquid from the “eyes,” Esperanza becomes even more convinced that the stucco can work miracles.

The bare bones plot of this movie could have been big — a goofy version of the Bruce/Evan Almighty-type comedies. It also could have been Hallmarky and Touched by an Angel saccharine. Surprisingly, it is neither of these things. Henry Poole Is Here is wry and cool and as interested in its characters as in its gimmick. It didn’t bowl me over but it did leave me feeling intensely grateful for all the ways it didn’t go wrong.

Luke Wilson has always been my favorite Wilson brother. He does a good job of going easy on his performances — he tends to pull back, both on comedy and drama, before they can boil over and that kind of evenness works well here.

Henry Poole Is Here isn’t a movie you’d necessarily seek out, it doesn’t quite have enough meat to be a movie you’d tell a friend they simply must see. But throw off expectation and just let this soft, cool story unfold and it will convince you it isn’t a movie to be avoided. B-

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language. Directed by Mark Pellington and written by Albert Torres, Henry Poole Is Here is an hour and 41 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Overture Films.