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In defense of 'Henry Poole is Here'

Pool_l

Pool_lWhen it comes to film, expectations are everything — so you agree, then, that whatever buzz you absorb before going into a theater can greatly affect how you watch something. Yes? Yes.

Take Henry Poole is Here, director Mark Pellington’s dramedy about a guy (Luke Wilson, pictured, along with costar Adriana Barraza) who is having serious issues with death. When I first heard about the movie from Pellington himself in 2007, I thought, here’s a movie I want to see. For starters, I can talk existentialism any day of the week — especially with a cocktail in hand. And secondly, because during our chat, Pellington dropped a personal bomb: In 2004, his wife and mother to his little girl died suddenly. “I went into an abyss for about a year and when I came out, I was looking at everything I had read and was attached to, and it spoke to [me] in the healing process,” Pellington explained. “I wanted to get light out of darkness.”

I’d lost loved ones in my life (most of us have) so I could connect with that — but when the film showed at Sundance earlier this year to mixed reviews (and a few brutal ones), I was almost afraid to see it. I went to the Los Angeles premiere though, and I enjoyed it. Some folks have criticized the film for proselytizing, but I thought it spoke to how we want our lives to be validated in the face of fearing death, and the coping mechanisms we use in dealing with it (be it religion, practical thinking, or just plain shutting down).

Because of my interview with Pellington, I presumably watched the film through a different lens than most critics — which leads me to my question: Does knowing the intentions and the back story of the filmmaker make liking the film any less valid than enjoying it for what it is? While you ponder that question, and hopefully respond on the comments board below, here are three reasons why you might connect with Henry Poole is Here:

1. You feel like a rat in a cage, or a hamster on its wheel – in other words, you’re having an existential crisis. Is this all there is? Is there an afterlife? Will I have any sort of legacy? Should I be doing something else with my life? These questions often circle in your head, and become especially intense after an episode of Celebrity Circus.

2. You can relate to seeing the weeping face of Christ in a waterstain on a stucco wall only because you have a nosy, insistent, crazyCatholic of a tia (in Henry Poole, played brilliantly by Barraza) who sees the Virgin Mary in her toast.

3. If you’re a sucker for Luke Wilson’s puppy-dog eyes, you’re in for a treat: They get a lot of screen time.

Originally posted August 20 2008 — 4:20 PM EDT

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