(Overture) Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barrazza, George Lopez, Cheryl Hines, Rachel Seiferth, Morgan Lily, Richard Benjamin. Directed by Mark Pellington.
We all of us handle devastating news in different ways. Some of us become drama queens, crying out to the heavens. Others surround themselves with friends and family for comfort. There are also those who, in the words of the immortal Greta Garbo, just want to be left alone.
Henry Poole (Wilson) has been hit with just that kind of devastating news and looks it. His expression is perpetually forlorn, his demeanor melancholy. A perky real estate agent (Hines) is showing him cookie cutter homes in suburban Los Angeles. She is mystified at how uninterested he is in the details of the home. When they find one he likes, she is further surprised that he wants to pay the asking price for the home and wants it as is with no improvements or repairs done.
Despite his protestations, she has a wall re-stuccoed, but the contractors botch the job; there’s a large stain left on the wall. Poole, however, despite his annoyance just wants the episode to come to an end so he can pull the blanket of suburban conformity over himself and wrap himself in it, cocooning in his tract home paradise with a case of vodka and a lawn chair to sun himself in.
But it is not to be. As much as he wants to be left alone, Henry’s barricades begin to crack. Effervescent neighbor Esperanza Martinez (Barrazza) brings homemade tamales as a good neighbor gesture which Henry accepts, somewhat begrudgingly. The truth is Esperanza is the neighborhood busybody who knows everything about everybody, but is largely harmless. That is, until she gets a look at the stain on Henry’s wall.
She becomes convinced that the stain is the face of Jesus. This puts a quick end to Henry’s privacy as gawkers and believers make pilgrimage to his wall, leaving candles and flowers. He becomes aggravated, angry, belligerent and rude. He sees no face on his wall; just a stain left by an incompetent contractor. He doesn’t see the work of the Divine; more like shoddy workmanship from a guy in a pair of jeans showing far too much of his ass-crack.
He discovers the little girl next door (Lily) tape recording his voice. She flees in terror, leaving behind her tape recorder. A little sheepishly, he returns it to her mother, the beautiful Dawn (Mitchell). It turns out she is divorced, and her daughter has not said a word since her father did the philanderer’s fandango out the door. Little by little, Henry draws her out. In turn, the little girl and her mother draw Henry out.
The reason that Henry is so sad and angry (a fact so apparent even the grocery checkout clerk (Seiferth) notices) is that he’s dying of a disease, as his doctor (Benjamin) puts it, that is rarely seen in this country. Henry is looking at an ordeal of pain and sickness, and simply wants to end his days in as much peace and tranquility as he can muster. Now, with his home a religious shrine, this will prove to be quite a challenge.
By nature, I’m not a religious man. I look at myself as a more spiritual person. I’m not fond of organized religions and I hate – absolutely hate – being preached to. At the same time, I believe in things beyond my understanding and in things greater than myself. I think director Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies) is of a similar nature. This is not a movie meant to bash you over the head with its Christian morality. It is more of a movie about faith than it is about belief. Pellington is content to present you with the facts of his story and let you draw your own conclusion. Some critics have complained that the facts are skewed in a specific direction, but I don’t agree.
The cast does a pretty good job here. Wilson plays a character who is trying to push people away from him as much as possible, but at the same time may not necessarily want to be alone. It’s a very interesting portrayal and some solid work for an actor who rarely gets the appreciation he deserves. Barrazza, an Oscar nominee for her work in Babel, is heart-warming as the big-hearted Esperanza. Her faith and her perception of the divine in the everyday never wavers; equally steadfast is her faith in her neighbor Henry. George Lopez, who has a small role as a pragmatic priest, was impressive. He should be getting more work than he does; hopefully this is the kind of part that can demonstrate he can handle non-comedic parts as well.
This is the type of movie that can force you to examine your own convictions. Al Michaels asked in a famous hockey game “Do you believe in miracles?” The question is a much deeper, more complex one than he intended it to be. How do you explain the unexplainable? When there is no science to rationalize, no words to explain, what then is left? Is it God, or just the power of the human will? These are the types of questions that define us as people, and if a movie asks us to consider them, I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
WHY RENT THIS: Although well-acted and heart-warming, at the core of the movie lay complex, important questions worth considering. Although the movie has a spiritual bent, it doesn’t preach.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Those uncomfortable with debate on spiritual matters will find this too much to handle.
FAMILY VALUES: While there are some pretty complicated issues being sorted out, this is perfectly family-friendly.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The filmmakers ran a contest on MySpace asking for submissions of songs from amateur singer-songwriters as a theme song for the movie. Out of more than 3,450 submissions, the winner was a gentleman named Ron Irizarry whose song was made into a music video by director Mark Pellington.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: Snow Angels