It's difficult not to be cynical while watching "Henry Poole Is Here," a dramedy about a cynical man who will most likely be thrust out of his cynicism by the end of the movie.
The cynical man in question is played by the usually peppy Luke Wilson, whose idea of playing cynical is furrowing his brow, keeping his eyes beady and smacking a continually ornery gaze on his face. It's almost as if he's thinking, "What would David Duchovny do?" (Why didn't the filmmakers just hire him for the part?)
It turns out that Wilson's titular character is suffering from some kind of terminal disease. So he buys a house on the same block as the house he grew up in and waits for time to run out. Unknown to him, he moves in next to neighbors who won't stop knocking on his door.
One hospitable neighbor ("Babel" maid-in-trouble Adriana Barraza) notices that there's a water stain on the side of his house that looks like Jesus Christ. It's a miraculous sight that the stubbornly pessimistic Poole doesn't need in his life.
Unfortunately for him, this new development becomes a godsend (pardon the pun) for others, as the divine stain enables a mute child to start speaking and cures a young girl of her faulty eyesight -- once the kids lay their hands on that stain.
So how long do you think it will be before the curmudgeonly Poole starts contemplating some hand-laying of his own?
It's safe to assume that "Poole" will be a polarizing film. It will probably invigorate those faith-following moviegoers, while more agnostic viewers will have to refrain from gagging.
"Poole" would be easier for nonbelievers to submit to if Wilson's character didn't go through the usual dying-man movie tropes, such as rethinking the whole dying alone thing when he gets smitten with the mute child's hot single mom (Radha Mitchell).
Screenwriter Albert Torres hashes them all out in the not-as-deep-as-it-appears script.
The most surprising thing about "Poole" is that the flick was helmed by music video director Mark Pellington, who directed some of the most hauntingly artful videos (Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," for one) MTV has ever aired. In his previous feature films "Going All the Way" and the Americans-can-be-terrorists-too thriller "Arlington Road," Pellington went all out in exposing the secrets and lies behind suburban closed doors.
"Poole" appears to be a complete 180 from that. Now he shows suburbia as a place with healing powers.
The tragic loss of Pellington's wife, who died from complications of a ruptured colon in 2004, is most likely the reason for Pellington's aesthetic, gloom-repellent shift. So it's hard to have complete misanthropy for a movie that is more heartbreakingly personal than it lets on.
However, I wished "Poole" were more honest and less shameless, especially when the movie gets to its cheat of an ending.
(After watching that, I immediately thought of Meg Ryan's chastising, this-coulda-been-avoided words to Tom Hanks in the last scene of "Joe Versus the Volcano" -- hey, now there's an underappreciated dying-man movie!)
I will say this, though: "Henry Poole Is Here" may be the sunniest film about a miserable man ready to die you'll ever see.