Henry Poole is Here

This is one I've pondered for a few days before writing my review. Here is a movie that might have been made in the 1940s when it wasn't considered hokey to express religious faith. These days, anti-Church forces are usually so vocal, I've been waiting to hear a groundswell of criticism, but...nothing... Maybe later?

Henry Poole is played by Luke Wilson ("You Kill Me," "Home Fries" and "The Royal Tenenbaums"), but in my opinion, the heart and soul of this movie rest on the sturdy shoulders of Oscar-nominated character actress Adriana Barraza ("Amores Perros" and "Babel"). Her character is aptly named "Esperanza," which means "Hope," the dominant theme of this unusual little movie.

Our story opens with Wilson being shown a nondescript California tract house by a diligent real estate agent. He is not only unimpressed, he obviously doesn't give a rip. He says "It won't matter, I won't be here very long." Because this is a movie and all plot lines are painted with broad strokes, it's clear that he expects to die. The when and the how will soon be revealed. I was surprised to see the role of his doctor portrayed by Richard Benjamin ("Portnoy's Complaint"). I was unaware that he was still working so I looked him up. Lo and behold, he has been slogging along all these years!

Wilson has no more than moved in and closed all the curtains and shades when there is a knock at the door. He is NOT sociable, but reluctantly opens it (his character is always polite). There stands a smiling woman holding a plate of still-warm tamales, welcoming him to the neighborhood. Over his objections, she barges in, looks around, and offers a brief history of the house and its former occupant. She sails into his back yard, chattering all the while, with him following after in bewildered protest. To his surprise, she is stopped short, transfixed by a stucco wall. She is convinced that he too, should be able to see the face of God in a water stain that has seeped through a recent paint job.

His life goes downhill from there. The plot is enriched by a darling little mute girl who lives next door, an indomitably cheerful checker in Coke-bottle eye-glasses at his local grocery/liquor store and the priest from Esperanza's church, portrayed by George Lopez ("Real Women Have Curves"). To Poole's chagrin, miracles seem to occur; despite his reluctance, he becomes acquainted with the people in his neighborhood; against his better judgement, he starts to care again.

Hope can be such a nuisance....