Film Forum: “Henry Poole is Here”

What a wide range of responses I’m seeing for Henry Poole is Here

Annie Wagner:

“This movie’s scrabble-brained approach to religious faith makes the new X-Files screenplay seem as though it were beamed down from the quill of St. Augustine himself. I have never before had a film simultaneously insult both my agnosticism and my Catholic upbringing. Henry Poole is Here is condescending toward believers, contemptuous toward disbelievers, and has the worst soundtrack in the entire history of cinema.

Stephen Holden:

“In the mawkish tradition of movies like Simon Birch, Wide Awake, August Rush and Hearts in Atlantis, Henry Poole Is Here is insufferable hokum that takes itself very, very seriously.”

Frederica Matthewes-Green:

Henry Poole Is Here is a film that Christian moviegoers will yearn to embrace, if only from sheer gratitude; here, at last, is a depiction of Christian faith that portrays it as something other than the domain of cranks and loonies. And it’s not just theological theory that wins the film’s blessing, but something more substantive, verging on shocking: it proposes that miracles can happen‚Äîand supplies an audacious one for our consideration.

Christians are so used to being portrayed as creeps and buffoons in entertainment that they may spend much of the movie braced for the slapdown. But there isn’t one; the miracle, and the faith that wells up surrounding it, are treated with respect. It is the gloomy atheist at the center of the story who will have to learn a lesson. Henry can insist, “There are no miracles!”, but it turns out that he’s wrong, and there will come a time for him to express repentance.

I expect that for many Christian moviegoers, this is more than enough to sell them on the film. But I don’t think the movie is as good as it could have been. As I watched these characters go through their predictable motions, I kept thinking that this must be the outtakes, and somewhere there was an alternative movie where they were doing and saying things that are interesting. Surely they don’t spend all their time trading wistful comments (“Things happen for a reason,” “I got a pretty long journey ahead,” “It’s the last time I remember being happy”), walking at sunset, brooding in darkness, jolting through too many montages, doing all manner of things in slow motion‚Äîand all of it set to a mix-tape of emo favorites.

Robert Davis:

Pop songs hold the skinny plot together, and each of its embedded music videos delivers the undeniable punch of a power ballad. They’re mopey and obvious, but sweet as can be, and the film’s redeeming facet is the depth of Henry’s cynicism. The heated exchanges he has with his faith-filled neighbors affirm that he’s no flower, and this surprisingly caustic side of Luke Wilson is the medicine that helps the sugar go down.

  • Facebook
About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://www.trulymovingpictures.org Lisa

    Hi Jeff, thanks for compiling these and sorry for just now getting to a comment!

    I’ve read more reviews than these four and they all seem to be just as mixed. I enjoyed the film, though, so I’m partial to Ebert’s words: “It doesn’t say that religious beliefs are real. It simply says that belief is real. And it’s a warm-hearted love story.”

    The film received the Truly Moving Picture Award for being the sort of movie that might not be solidly made (as so many critics are pointing out) but being one that makes you think, that might make you see your world ever-so-differently when you emerge from the theater.

    I got the chance to interview Mark Pellington, the director, and his backstory and perspective on the art he creates might help these nay-sayers appreciate the film a bit more. If you’re interested, you can read it/listen to it at TrulyMovingPitures.org.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X