Saturday, 16 May 2009

Henry Poole is Here (2008)

And all the time, I kept wishing this were directed by Monty Python instead

There's something perverse about Henry Pool is Here. A Sundance film, it technically has the prerequisite traits of a small Sundance indie - a depressed, terminally-ill man (title character, played by Luke Wilson), an assortment of eccentric neighbours with histories, secrets, and private hurts.

What's perverse is its take on faith and the idea of miracles: they do happen, and not in the metaphorical sense. All you need to do is believe. This may be the first ever entry for Sundance which plays like "When you wish upon a star" for adults.

While Henry Poole slowly wastes away from his illness while angsting in self-seclusion (please leave me alone!), a literal miracle happens literally in his backyard. A water stain on Poole’s backyard wall seems to be the face of Jesus, attracting the attention of his neighbours, the local parish pastor, and even more people. As all Henry wants is to be left alone.

If this were an indie film, hilarity would ensue (either in a dark or irreverent style - think of how Kaufman, Monty Python, or Kevin Smith would have approached this material), and a point be made eventually about the human need to believe in miracles.

Except every moment you expect the punchlines to begin, director Mark Pellington decides to play it straight, laboriously and unimaginatively making and reiterating how a childlike, trusting surrender to belief can heal people – both physically and emotionally. And every moment he does that, your bored mind will be rewriting the script according to how you think Monty Python might have written each scene.

By avoiding any critical approach to its subject matter, Henry Poole is a family-friendly, heart-warming film. It is also simplistic and too straightforward to really take on the issues of belief and disbelief. This may be indicative of how fraught with difficulty any discussion of faith is at this point in American history, and the film suffers for it.

While one may fault its approach and predictable script, Mark Pellington's training in making music videos does ensure that at least this film is beautifully shot.

Henry Poole is available on DVD at the Esplanade library as of 25 March 2009.
An earlier version of this review was published at incinemas on 14 May 2009.


lesli said...

If you missed this film the first time around, I strongly encourage you to check out the newly 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!

Michele said...

Thanks for the review of the film and Lesli - thanks for the update on the new family version! I'm looking forward to watching this film with my family! The site you listed was most informative and we went ahead and entered the contest as well. It's nice to find people sharing information on films that are not typical Hollywood these days! Thanks again to you both!