National Catholic Register


Catholic 'Poole' vs. Ebert

BY Tom Hoopes

| Posted 3/7/09 at 12:10 PM


For the Hoopes family Catholic Movie Night last week, we rented the newly rentable Henry Poole Is Here.

I found it … well, odd. Roger Ebert praised it effusively, though, so I want to go down his list of positives and give each a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Here’s what Ebert says about it: “Henry Poole Is Here achieves something that is uncommonly difficult. It is a spiritual movie with the power to emotionally touch believers, agnostics and atheists — in that descending order, I suspect. It doesn’t say that religious beliefs are real. It simply says that belief is real. And it’s a warm-hearted love story.”

Those are high words of praise from a guy who is sparing with such words. And that’s just how he opens the review of the movie about the face of Jesus appearing (or maybe not appearing) on the wall of a depressed man’s Californian stucco home (rated PG for three scatalogical profanities [which Kids in Mind warned us about] that were hurried and all in a row.)

Here’s how Ebert ends his review … and my thoughts on his pronouncements:

“I fell for it. I believe the feelings between Henry and Dawn. I care about their tenderness and loneliness.”

Okay. I didn’t, but I’ll give him this. Luke Wilson did do an excellent job as Henry, and Australian actress Radha Mitchell was fine, though my daughters kept saying, “Why does that lady dress so immodestly?” (“She’s in California,” explained April, with a sigh of longing for her homeland.)

“I think Millie is adorable.”

Now, here, I must strongly disagree with Ebert. Millie was the little girl, and I won’t fault her because she did a fine job; she did everything right. But the camera always made her look, frankly, creepy. I have been trained by movies to associate all of the imaging used here for Millie to mean, “This child is possessed. Behind her blank stare is the deepest troll-cave darkness. She will eat your soul and vomit it into hell.” But even my children, who haven’t been so trained, were quaking in fear at the way she was presented.

“I think Father Salazar has his head on straight.”

That is certainly true. George Lopez’s Father Salazar rescued this surprisingly dark movie as a Hoopes Catholic Movie Night selection.  I’ve never particularly liked what Lopez does, but here as Father Salazar, he did the priesthood a good turn. ... He’s the sensible priest when he says the Church “by no means endorses frivolous claims of this nature.” He is the gently insistent man of God when he’s trying to manage Henry’s skepticism and the needs of his flock. And he’s the naturally pastoral priest when he is reaching out to help Henry.

“I love Esperanza’s great big heart.”

Yes; I did too. She’s the sanguine Mexican neighbor that you’re lucky if you have. Tamales cover up a multitude of sins of intrusiveness.

“And I especially admire the way that Henry sticks to his guns. He doesn’t believe there’s a face on his stucco, and that’s that. And no, he doesn’t undergo a deathbed conversion. That’s because ... but find out for yourself.”

Here’s where Ebert comes in direct contradiction with Steven D. Greydanus, the Register’s film critic who says … well, find out for yourself.