A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this flawed-but-interesting dramedy takes on a potentially overwhelming topic -- faith -- and manages to make it approachable. It even stirs a bit of hope. That said, it's so geared up for a fight that it misses its chance to be a truly profound discussion movie. In some ways the content is age-appropriate for tweens -- language, violence, and sexual content are all mild -- but in others it's very mature. The main character is a terminally ill man who drinks like a fish and doesn't seem to care about living -- which may feel too tragic, or even scary, for young viewers. Even the religious themes (neighbors are having visions in the main character's back yard) may overwhelm some kids.
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What's the story?
Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) drives a banged-up car with a knocked-out rear windshield he doesn't bother replacing, buys a house he doesn't seem interested in furnishing, and spends his days despondent, eating doughnuts and drinking. In short, he's given up on life. And why shouldn't he? His doctor says he's dying from an unidentified illness, and, as Henry likes to say by way of explanation, he "won't be here very long." But then well-meaning neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) befriends him, and soon she's claiming to see the face of Christ on Henry's stucco siding. (He thinks it's a stain.) It's not just her, too; others eager for succor and relief have begun making the pilgrimage to Henry's lowly bungalow. Plus, a sad, sweet little girl (Morgan Lily) who lives next door and seems to be fighting her own demons finds her way into his heart -- as does her mother (Radha Mitchell). With friends like these, how can Henry not have faith?
Is it any good?
Though it's hobbled by a murky, sometimes mawkish script, HENRY POOLE IS HERE is still surprisingly interesting, if only because it dares to wear its faith on its sleeve. Irony doesn't live here, and that's very refreshing -- as is the courage to take on such a complicated subject. Wilson is perfect for the job; he's the picture of man defeated, shuffling to an inevitable death. Henry fights any hope that's sent his way -- including the appropriately named Esperanza -- and Wilson makes his struggles palpable. Here is a man who doesn't want to believe but is confronted with many reasons why he might want to.
Still, you have to wonder how much stronger the movie would have been had the filmmakers trimmed down some of the more portentous bits. Nearly every epiphany is foreshadowed, and situations are rigged for maximum tearjerking effect, which, of course, renders them that much less potent. For instance, must grocery girl Patience be saddled with such an obvious name (not to mention Coke-bottle glasses) when she is, quite plainly, supposed to be the character who sees life so clearly? Tonally, too, the movie is all over the place; one minute it's funny, the next it's somber. Even though we already want to believe, director Mark Pellington makes sure to milk the emotion in nearly every scene so that nothing's left to serendipity, leaving little reason for us to take a leap of faith.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Henry feels and acts the way he does in the beginning of the movie. Why does he drink so much? What are the consequences of that behavior? What makes him change -- and why does he resist that change? What messages is the movie sending? Can you think of other movies that deal with faith in a similar manner? What makes this movie different from other Hollywood films?