Salvation, vodka ‘ donuts- ‘Henry Poole is Here’

Andrew Fingerett

‘Henry Poole is Here’ might as well have flashed the words ‘Jesus Saves’ across the screen for 89 minutes instead of dragging the audience through a vat of superficial muck to its disappointingly banal conclusion.

The film is a faith-based hope-fest of a comedy about a disheveled man named Henry Poole, played by Luke Wilson. The protagonist is condemned to die by a mysterious disease. Poole decides to move back to his native Southern California, to the sleepy Los Angeles suburb in which he was raised, in an attempt to induce some sort of personal catharsis before his early demise.

Unfortunately for Poole, who desires to live out his remaining days in solitude with his vodka and donuts, the faded image of what looks like Jesus Christ appears in a botched stucco job on the side of his house. Poole’s Christian neighbor Esperanza, played by Adrianna Barraza, declares the stain to be a miracle and spreads news of the appearance around the neighborhood.

The suburbanites line up to view the stain, including Poole’s other neighbor, a beautiful young woman named Dawn, played by Radha Mitchell, and her mute daughter Millie. As much as the atheistic Poole is frustrated by what he considers to be the believers’ mindless naivety, his distaste for them quickly subsides, especially as Dawn predictably becomes something of a love interest. The film also briefly stars George Lopez as a humble priest and Cheryl Hines as an annoyingly condescending real-estate agent.

The film begins rather light-heartedly despite its dark overtones, and the characters are believable and intriguing. The initial feeling of depth to each of the characters quickly turns from intriguing to frustrating, as only bits and pieces of their histories are ever actually revealed. The audience gets the sense that Poole was once some kind of professional, however, the audience never finds out how far Poole fell from grace and the audience also never discovers what kind of disease he has.

Regardless of the sappy clich’eacute;s and a cacophony of violins, pianos and garrulous pop music, ‘Henry Poole is Here’ is not simply a garbled, disjointed series of exaggerated vignettes. The film also has a heavy coating of religious fervor, and it’s very clear about its portrayal of Poole as one of God’s lost lambs, flailing helplessly in the depths of disbelief and condemned to hopelessness until he can accept the stain’s authenticity.

‘Henry Poole is here’ is something that begins as a quirky comedy and winds up being a purely nauseating sob-fest, overflowing with its own tragic aspirations.

In the end the film seems almost hypocritical once the credits roll. At one point in the film, Poole declares that miracles simply don’t happen in real life. Luckily for Poole, his world is disconnected from reality anyhow.