Note: I posted this review soon after I saw this movie at Sundance, and today it's out in theaters, so I thought I'd share my thoughts again. It has some flaws, but overall I really like this movie.
Henry Poole Is Here was one of the first non-documentary feature films to be snatched up by a studio at this year's Sundance, and I can easily see why. It's a sweet, feel-good movie featuring great performances and a quirky look at the old discussion of faith vs. reason. It's not for everyone, veering as it does into some schmaltzy territory, but the subject matter lends itself to some cheesiness and I can't quite see how that could have been avoided. The hipster soundtrack helps to make things more edgy, as does the artful direction by Mark Pellington.
Luke Wilson plays Henry Poole, a grouchy man who buys an ordinary house in Southern California. Before long, his very friendly neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barazza) notices a stain on the outside of Henry's house that she thinks is the face of Jesus. She calls in a priest (George Lopez) and starts telling everyone in town about "the miracle" at Henry's house, much to Henry's annoyance. Henry tries his best to get rid of the stain, wanting nothing more than to be left alone in his dreary house. But the more he angrily resists the "miracle" on his house, the more proof presents itself that the stain truly does have some kind of power. For more of my thoughts about Henry Poole, read more.
I can name two major reasons to see this movie: Adriana Barraza and Morgan Lily. Barraza, who received an Oscar nomination for her performance in Babel, is a compelling person to watch in general, and in this film she lends a truthful humanity to what might have been the silliest character in the story. Morgan Lily is a rising star; her big, sweet eyes and ease on camera indicate excellent things for her future. She will give those Fanning kids a run for their money. This photo in particular just slays me.
For his part, Wilson is surprisingly good in the title role. Henry Poole is difficult to like, yet Wilson elicits our sympathy. When we find out the painful reasons behind Poole's curmudgeonly demeanor, Wilson still manages to keep things grounded; we are compassionate toward Poole but we aren't allowed to pity him.
The music chosen for the film is its own character, though sometimes it almost plays too big a part. Still, it's like the filmmakers took a spin through my music collection and made some great choices: The Eels, Cake, Badly Drawn Boy, and many more. In truth, I probably wouldn't have liked the movie quite so much if it weren't for the carefully selected tunes.
Bottom line: Henry Poole Is Here is beautifully directed, features great performances and uses music in a lovely way. At times it's overly cheesy but if you're generally a fan of indie film, this is a must-see.