HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, January 12, 2009

HENRY POOLE IS HERE -- DVD review by porfle

The trailer made HENRY POOLE IS HERE look like it was going to be a dopey-cutesy irreverent comedy, but it isn't. Instead, it's a refreshingly uncynical comedy-drama with its heart on its sleeve and a surprising number of genuinely moving moments. And after just watching one of the most depressing movies ever made (EDEN LAKE--great flick but I almost needed grief counseling when it was over), this was just the ticket to lift my spirits for awhile.

Luke Wilson stars as Henry, who just got some real bad news from his doctor (a welcome cameo appearance by the venerable Richard Benjamin) and has moved back into the neighborhood where he grew up to lie around in a funk and wait for the inevitable. All he wants is to be left alone, but when a bad stucco job on the back wall of his house begins to resemble the face of Christ (a la various tortillas, oil stains, and other items you may have read about in the news), he suddenly finds people making the pilgrimage to his backyard looking for a miracle.

As his perky Mexican neighbor Esperanza, Mexican actress Adriana Barraza brightens things up with her lively performance. Esperanza has seen bad times herself but refuses to give up her faith and optimism, trying to nudge Henry out of his gloom and back into the light. Radha Mitchell (PITCH BLACK) plays Henry's other neighbor Dawn, the mother of a little girl named Millie (the elfish Morgan Lily) who hasn't spoken a word since her father abandoned them. Until, that is, she touches the wall and is cured. When the same thing happens to a near-blind checkout clerk (Rachel Seiferth) who suddenly attains 20-20 vision after a visit to the wall, Henry's dogged refusal to belief in miracles is challenged.

HENRY POOLE IS HERE begins with all the excitement of a lazy afternoon lying in a hammock, and maintains that pace throughout. Yet it stays interesting because the characters continue to gain depth as the story itself becomes increasingly heartfelt and thoughtful, and almost somber at times. Albert Torres' script is simple but effective, with several scenes managing to evoke a variety of emotions without getting maudlin.

Director Mark Pellington (THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, ARLINGTON ROAD) handles the simple locations well and imbues the look of the film with a good deal of style. The wistful, new age-tinged score by John Frizzell is augmented by an assortment of sensitive songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Badly Drawn Boy, and Blur. The frequent song montages usually seem like an intrusion at first, but each is worked well into the flow of the visuals.

Joining the rest of the capable cast are George Lopez in the uncharacteristically low-key role of Esperanza's priest, Father Salazar, and the always really cute Cheryl Hines as a real estate agent. Adriana Barraza is a delight as Esperanza, while Radha Mitchell and Morgan Lily are just right as Henry's surrogate family. But it's Luke Wilson's restrained, soulful performance as Henry that really carries the film.

The DVD offers both full-screen and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras consist of a fifteen-minute "making-of" featurette (which surprisingly never mentions the kid), an audio commentary by the director and writer, a trailer, and a couple of music videos for songs used in the film. A printed insert (rare these days) contains Mark Pellington's account of how personal tragedy led him to make a life-affirming movie about healing, positivism, and coping with loss.

While Christian faith is portrayed in HENRY POOLE IS HERE, there's no reason why people of other beliefs or even atheists shouldn't be able to appreciate its message of hope and humanity. It isn't a religious tract meant to save souls--Henry, in fact, remains ambiguous about whether or not there's a divine image on his stucco--but merely an uplifting story about how a man at the end of his rope finds reasons to keep on living for whatever time he has left.


MrRed2020 said...

Look forward to checking out Henry Poole Is Here now that I can get it ob Blu Ray. Should be a pretty interesting comedy!

lesli said...

If you missed Luke Wilson the first time around in this film, I encourage you to check out the recently released family version. I absolutely loved this movie! It was such a great story about a real life guy who was struggling with his faith and accepting it. This is something that I've been struggling with myself for the past couple of years. It was such an encouragement to see this played out. And it's really cool that I've found a site, Right now it looks like they are giving away 10 copies of the movie for free. If you haven't seen the movie yet, or even if you have, you could always give it to a friend, but it's definitely worth checking out! PERFECT film for a FAMILY movie night!