I watched Henry Poole is Here because a friend pointed out to me that it has a similar concept as a script I’m currently working on. There’s nothing more annoying than that. From the description, the artwork and the people involved I had very little interest, but checked it out regardless. More on its relation to my script below.
Story: Henry Poole (an oddly played, generally unsuccessful Luke Wilson) is very depressed and we don’t know why. He moves into a $325,000 house in California, telling his real-estate agent not to negotiate the price down because he “won’t be here for long,” something he repeats throughout. Next door is a nosy neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) and an attractive single mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell). Dawn’s daughter, Milly, hasn’t spoken since Dawn’s husband left, but Milly does go around tape-recording peoples’ conversations.
Inciting incident in here: Esperanza, a devout Catholic, sees a water stain on the side of Henry’s wall that she claims looks like the face of Christ. Drama ensues including a blood-tear trickling down, various miracles, and of course, Henry’s own test of faith.
One of the problem with the film: I narrowed his depression down to two reasons in the first 10 minutes – a broken relationship, or imminent death. I won’t tell you which, but I will tell you I was right.
Another problem with the film: an unbelievably annoying soundtrack. To the extent that it’s unfathomable why these songs would have been selected.
More problems: the problems within the film don’t build enough, and the third act feels like repetitious fodder. Henry oscillates back and forth between general disbelief and incredulity and downplayed depression. Milly talks, but then stops talking, but then talks again. Henry decides he can love Dawn, then decides he can’t, then decides he can again. Henry gets along with Esperanza, then doesn’t, then does again. It gets old.
Mark Pellington makes some odd choices in here, including utilizing a “see through” wall in order to mimic the POV of the water stain. It feels cheesy. He does a good job of opening the otherwise small space, and his direction of Milly, particularly when she’s silent, is quite good. The film isn’t preachy, which it could easily be, but it also doesn’t do too much with what could (should) be a really interesting series of events. The characters are mostly filled with some awe and wonderment and their one-dimensionality really shines through when all they have to say are pithy one-liners like, “When are you going to stop pretending?”
Here’s the frustrating thing for me: many of screenwriter Albert Torres’ devices are also present in my script. And he wrote his first! Now don’t get me wrong, they’re very different stories, the characters are very different and the outcome and “moral” of each is worlds apart, but still…the spirituality – his hopeful, mine hopefully sardonic – is nearly identical in physical “miraculous” form. What is a screenwriter to do?
Well, for one I can learn from what, in my opinion, Torres and director Mark Pellington did wrong. For another thing, I can pretend this doesn’t exist and just keep writing (best choice of action!).