The Austin Chronicle

Henry Poole Is Here

Rated PG, 100 min. Directed by Mark Pellington. Starring Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza, George Lopez, Cheryl Hines, Richard Benjamin, Morgan Lily, Rachel Seiferth.

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Aug. 15, 2008

Back around the turn of the century, music-video director Pellington carved out a small and unnerving patch of the film universe for himself. At the time he was a rarity: a visual stylist who was able to parlay his disturbing 3½-minute melodramas (exemplified by his award-winning video for Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”) into a career in Hollywood. His wonderfully odd debut, Going All the Way, put a violent, post-Freudian spin on the age-old teenage sex-comedy formula, while Arlington Road is still one of the best Hollywood movies to pull the fear and paranoia of political terrorism out of the corridors of power and drop it into our living rooms. Now, after spending the past six years in the relative comfort of television and U2’s great big, loving, lucrative arms (U2 3D), it appears that good old disturbing Pellington has officially gone soft. Though his latest, Henry Poole Is Here, is full of all his usual ultrastylized, ultradark visual experimentation – an aesthetic that makes viewers feel like they’re drowning in an ocean of uncomfortable childhood memories – its story couldn’t be more corny, redemptive, or inspirational. Wilson plays Henry Poole, a bloated, unshaven drunk who buys a house in his old neighborhood and spends his days in quiet self-loathing, hoping not to be bothered. Unfortunately for him, he’s got the world heavyweight champion of meddling neighbors in Esperanza (Barraza), a good-natured busybody whose interest turns to obsession when she decides a water stain on the outside wall of Poole’s house is actually a portrait of Jesus, complete with bloody tears and healing powers. Soon, Poole’s house has become a holy destination, not just for the pilgrims in Esperanza’s church but also for the damaged woman next door (Mitchell) and her mute daughter (Lily, who, like this movie, flip-flops between creepy and adorable with remarkable speed and dexterity), and poor, reclusive Poole is being taught some valuable, if unwanted, lessons about the importance of friendship, the joy of love, and the all-consuming grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if Pellington found religion recently, but I do know you have to wonder about the artistic health and decision-making abilities of any filmmaker who looks for divinity in shots of sunlight pouring out from behind clouds. All that’s missing from the director’s new vision of the world is the pipe organ and the choir of angels.

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