Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) is a man looking for a cocoon. He just wants to buy a house in his childhood neighborhood, get lots of alcohol and frozen pizza from the supermarket down the street, and hunker down to live out the remaining days of his life. Alone.
This is the sad beginning of "Henry Poole Is Here." But things don't remain this way. A knock on the door introduces Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), who comes bearing tamales and concern. Esperanza, of course, is the one who hopes, and her hope is a big part of this movie.
Henry doesn't want anything to do with anybody. He's grouchy, with a secret to account for it. Henry just wants to be alone, but that becomes impossible when Esperanza sees a stain on the wall in Henry's house and becomes convinced it looks like Jesus Christ. Henry rejects the notion.
In her joy, Esperanza calls Father Salazar (George Lopez) to come and see the wall. This infuriates Henry, despite the fact that Father Salazar is a non-anxious, non-judgmental presence. He neither confirms nor denies that the stain looks like anything, but he does understand Henry's anger and quietly leaves.
As time goes by, the stain's presence grows larger and larger in Henry's life and the lives of others.
Those others include Millie (Morgan Lily), the little girl who lives next door. She doesn't talk, with a secret to account for that, too. She just listens and records what goes on around her.
Millie's mother, Dawn (Radha Mitchell), begins a relationship with Henry, and that leads him to tell her his secret: Henry is dying.
Hence his anger and depression. His hope was in the doctors, who let him down. There is no God, and he must live waiting for the moment when he will die. The stain only creates more frustration and convinces Henry of his impending death
Henry angrily tells Esperanza that she wants him to believe as a means of helping herself. "If you can get me to believe what you believe," he tells her, "it will make your faith easier." Yet there is something going on here, something more than just a person of faith attempting to convert a non-believer.
The stain has a way of changing people, though Henry still refuses to believe.
"Henry Poole Is Here" is a risky movie. It is clearly a movie about faith and hope. Religion is never really mentioned, with the exception of Father Salazar, but it asks us if it is possible to hope in something greater than our circumstance and ourselves.
It is also a sweet movie, if a bit like a sentimental, Hallmark Hall of Fame effort. We see something that all of us long for: hope in something greater than ourselves. Faith is not looked down on, nor is it celebrated as an organized thing. It is shown as something held and vindicated in ways greater than a church or organization.
"Henry Poole" isn't great, but not all good movies are. It doesn't swing for the fences, but instead just tries to get on base, which it does. It asks us to think about what we hope for and why. Is there something greater than us at work in the world?
It presents a God who is there in small things, like a stain on a wall or in the heart of a heartbroken girl. It lets us find God in the here and now of everyday life.
And that's a good thing.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some language.
Director: Mark Pellington
Writers: Albert Torres
Cast: Henry Poole: Luke Wilson; Dawn: Radha Mitchell; Millie: Morgan Lily; Father Salazar: George Lopez; Esperanza: Adriana Barraza; Patience: Rachel Seiferth.
The movie's official Web site is here.