Hollywood doesn’t often deal directly with issues of faith and spirituality, mainly because it wants to appeal to as many people as humanly possible. So it’s too bad that when a movie like Henry Poole Is Here finally steps up to the pulpit, it’s too uninspired to be inspirational. Wilson stars in the title role as a man who discovers he has what one might call “movie disease.” That means that he’s dying of an unnameable something that sometimes results in a cough, although not this time. He moves into a house in his childhood neighborhood to await death—preferably alone, sustained by booze, pizza and doughnuts. Unfortunately, a new stucco job on the side of his house grows a water stain in the shape of a familiar, bearded face.
His religious neighbor Esperanza (Oscar nominee Barraza, from Babel) makes a big deal out if it, and soon Henry is up to his neck in neighbors, including the beautiful Dawn (Mitchell), Dawn’s withdrawn daughter and a grocery-store clerk with Coke-bottle glasses. Soon everyone affects everyone else’s life, etc. It’s possible that the screenplay by Albert Torres may once have had some depth, but the discussions and ideas on display are purely facile; mainly the despondent Henry yells at everyone until he learns to “warm up.” Nevertheless, the actors deliver their best, and George Lopez and Cheryl Hines are so effective in small scenes that we’d like to see more of them.
It’s the director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies) who phones it in; while the movie cries out for divine arguments, he rifles through his CD collection for neat music-video montages. As if working from an idiot’s guide to indie movies, Pellington alternates among slow motion, time-lapse and that annoying thing wherein the focus kind of softly rolls across the image. He even occasionally cuts to a shot from the point of view of the wall itself! From the lack of care he puts into these seemingly random, virtually pointless images, it becomes clear that he’s far more fascinated by Wilson’s constant two days’ growth of beard (kept, improbably, over the course of a week or so) than he is in Jesus’ miracle mug. It’s an ultimate work of faithlessness.