Saturday, February 7, 2009

Movie Review: Henry Poole is Here

"Do you ever feel like things happen for no reason?
Like you're just along for the ride?"
So speaks Henry Poole who is without hope or faith and is trying to avoid any and all human contact.

Henry has moved into a neighborhood where he is unknown only to find that his neighbor, Esperanza, sees the "face of Christ" in the new stucco on his house. Insisting that it is a water stain, unable to remove it with bleach, and equally unable to keep Esperanza away, he agrees to let the local priest bring in experts for evaluation.

Meanwhile, we discover why Henry is hiding from the world and see him pulled into interaction despite himself with his neighbors. Henry provides the skeptical, reasonable voice of the world, wanting rational explanations and refusing to believe in ... "don't say that word!" ... miracles because those just don't happen. This provides not only many humorous situations but poignant moments as well. As the movie progresses we are aching to know if the "face of Christ" is genuine or only a water stain. Equally, we are aching for Henry.

In the most basic sense, the overall message of this movie could be that no man is an island, as Henry is unable to avoid people constantly reaching out to him in friendly interest. Those people spark a transformation that Henry can not possibly imagine as he continually attempts to bat them away. We do not see every situation resolved but the sense that resolution lies in the future is clearly present by the end of the film. The story overall is a human, interesting look at hopelessness and faith, isolation and love, memories and future.

There are some script flaws. There could have been more plot lines and a bit less telegraphing of some of the story. The flashbacks are awkwardly jumps in time and some story points move unrealistically quickly. However, it does not make claims to be something it is not. This is a little, refreshing, quirky movie with heart. I have watched many simple movies such as The Castle and Eagle vs. Shark with exactly those same qualities that have stuck with me for a very long time. This movie is no less.

Here is a no-doubt-about-it faith message that was delivered interestingly, and with realistic characters, using subtle methods to enhance the story. Predictable in some ways, it made us think along the way, didn't spoon feed us everything, and was far superior to Fireproof in technique and delivery. It speaks about faith and prayer in the way that normal people do, without stopping to deliver speeches about "accepting the Lord." As Tom says, "You can lead a horse to water, but you probably can't beat it to water."

An indie-style movie with a simple but well delivered story, it is a lesson in how to deliver messages when you're not already preaching to the choir, as "Christian" movies are wont to do. Excellent acting enhanced the movie greatly. For example, I have never seen George Lopez in anything but broad comic roles, which were painful, to tell the truth. Here he does a subtle, low key delivery as the very real seeming neighborhood priest who is called in to give judgment on the "appearance."

We appreciated the acknowledgment that it is possible to have a woman look beautiful and modest while dressing like a normal person. (No stereotypical "sensible" pumps, no frumpy blouse and skirt sets that your mother might wear, and no ugly hair styles ... yes, "Fireproof," I'm lookin' at you all the way here.) Equally, there is no immodest behavior although everyone's behavior is entirely normal. I particularly enjoyed the device of using the tape recorder to both engage Henry with another person and remind him and the audience of key points. As well, we both appreciated the sequence informing of us Henry's past while he is at the river. Artfully and subtly done, especially in a movie with this overall message.

The symbolism likewise was there for us if we wanted it but didn't intrude on our viewing. Take note of characters' names, keeping in mind Esperanza is Spanish for "hope." Equally, remember that a cross never shows up in a movie, even as a shadow, without the filmmaker deliberately placing it there (kudos to Tom who caught this one in the movie). As a larger example: Henry's house is empty, barren, dark, and bleak. A neighbor's backyard, likewise, is in stages of raw disorder, although their house is warm and inviting. We were shocked every time Henry left his home and we saw the neighborhood full of lush, flourishing yards and homes. The contrast between Henry and other people is shown to us thus to make an overall impression that sinks in at a level we did not have to have a spoken declaration to understand. This is not all but we will let it unfold for you.

Well done and definitely recommended for those interested in what they would do if the "face of Christ" showed up on the wall of their house.

Cross-posted at Happy Catholic.


lesli said...

If you missed Henry Poole the first time around, 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 for a FAMILY movie night!

Allison said...

My family watched it last night and I blogged about it, including your review.

Great for conversation and the kids liked that well known actors were in the movie.