I hate to say it.
Really, I do.
I have this odd feeling that I would really enjoy hanging out with Luke Wilson, who stars as the title character in "Henry Poole Is Here."
Wilson seems like such a nice guy. An interesting guy. I can understand why he gets cast so often...he's classically good looking, has a commanding screen presence and has such a positive aura that you just can't help but like the guy.
The problem is that Luke Wilson simply can't act.
Actually, I'm sorry. That's unfair. Luke Wilson can act...AS Luke Wilson. Wilson's most successful films, virtually his ONLY successful films, have been in films in which he has played characters that allow him serve up subtle variations on himself. When he's called upon to act with any semblance of emotional depth, as he is in "Henry Poole Is Here," his acting limitations rise to the forefront and Wilson not only suffers but so does everyone around him.
In "Henry Poole Is Here," it's particularly sad because Wilson is surrounded by a supporting cast that ranges from credible to downright fantastic and he's gifted with a script by first-time screenwriter Albert Torres that has amazing potential.
Wilson takes a film that could easily have been an
A-/B+ film and turns it into a film that can be recommended only on the strength of its ideas and the outstanding supporting performances.
"Henry Poole Is Here" is the story of Henry Poole, a young man who finds out from his doctor (Richard Benjamin) that he's suffering from an unnamed but terminal illness. Henry decides to isolate himself, and buys a $325,000 California ranch style home in which to live out his final days alone.
Before long, however, a Hispanic neighbor (Adriana Barraza, "Babel") interprets a water stain on his house as the image of Christ and Henry's final days alone are quickly consumed by a hodgepodge of nosy neighbors, oddballs, loners, those desperate for miracles and those for whom faith is all they have.
Director Mark Pellington, who directed the IMAX film "U2 3D", seems to recognize Wilson's inherent limitations and does his best to overcome them by utilizing production design tricks, costuming and even a variety of camera tricks designed to enhance the emotional force of Wilson's performance. Pellington's efforts are, at times, successful. More often than not, however, Wilson is far outshined by his supporting cast.
There is one area, however, in which Wilson shines and it becomes these scenes that truly save the film. Whereas Owen, his brother, has appeared less than comfortable in recent films involving children, such as "Drillbit Taylor," here Wilson offers his most vulnerable performance in scenes with Millie (Morgan Lily, "CSI"), a six-year-old girl grieving abandonment by her father and living in her own isolative, silent world. It is these scenes, that weave themselves between innocence, joy, despair and hope, in which Wilson truly shines along with the surprisingly mature and multi-layered performance of Morgan Lily.
While Wilson's chemistry with the young actress is stellar, it is less convincing with Radha Mitchell ("Feast of Love"), who plays Millie's mother and gives Henry an unexpected glimpse of love during a time when he's trying to block out such notions. This is no fault of Mitchell, whose performance is authentic and tender.
The film's other standout performance comes from relative newcomer Rachel Seiferth ("Anna Nicole"), whose performance as a rather nerdish, visually challenged cashier who takes a deep interest in Henry is rather remarkable in the way she develops over the course of the film. Seiferth takes what could have easily been a one-note role and makes her one of the most compelling characters in the film.
Initially, Barraza's performance as the ultra-faithful Esperanza didn't resonate. However, long after the film had ended I found myself constantly reflecting on her face, her body language and her faith and I began to realize that the success of her performance was that I, much like Henry, wasn't at all comfortable with this woman who surrendered herself so easily to miracles. While this realization gives me a greater appreciation for her performance, Barraza remains a far better dramatic actress than one who will become known for comedic gifts.
"Henry Poole Is Here" has already been named winner of a Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award, a designation recognizing it for its positive message and celebration of the human spirit. It should be noted, however, that the film is almost single-minded in its celebration of faith and hope and God that it may very well offend those who, like Henry Poole, don't consider themselves believers and aren't likely to be convinced by a film.
A stellar supporting cast and a script that combines a positive message with wry, life-based humor nearly overcomes the underwhelming performance of the film's lead, Luke Wilson.
Henry Poole is here. Radha Mitchell is here. Morgan Lily is here. Rachel Seiferth is here. If only Luke Wilson could have truly been here, "Henry Poole Is Here" could have been a truly outstanding film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic