Starring: Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza
Directed by: Mark Pellington (“U2 3D”)
Written by: Albert Torres (debut)
Someone invite debut screenwriter Albert Torres over for Bible study. The scribe’s got a lot to say about faith and spirituality and isn’t shy about forcing it down the throats of anyone who’s ever looked out their peephole at Jehovah’s Witnesses and not opened the door. For those atheists out there, consider it the comedy of the year.
The divine intervention begins when Henry Poole (Wilson), who six weeks prior is diagnosed with a terminal disease, moves back to the neighborhood he grew up to wait out his final days crying alone in his vodka tonics. But when Esperanza (Oscar-nominee Barraza of Babel), a pious neighbor, swears to see the face of Christ on the side of Henry’s new home, no one can stop her from anticipating miracles especially when the water-stain image begins to shed tears of blood and “cure” believers. Next door, Dawn (Mitchell) and Millie (Lily), a sorrowful mother-daughter duo who are dealing with abandonment issues, keep Henry company as Esperanza (Spanish for hope) maddeningly tours God-fearing folk through his backyard.
Although the performances make it tolerable (Barraza is genuine and Wilson, when he’s not sulking, is convincing), to know who Henry Poole actually is by the time the preaching ceases is impossible. Instead of smoothing out his rough edges and giving a more meaningful insight to his life before his sickness, Torres and director Pellington drown out the narrative with cliché musings and an overbearingly uplifting soundtrack. The tracks are built around a theme song written by Orlando native and MySpace songwriting contest winner Ron Irizarry, whose lyrics are better fitted as pulpit-worthy speeches for Joel Osteen. Sure, Torres and Pellington might have left some room for religious interpretation, but not before slapping some mud in Henry’s hands and writing him into a West Coast version of Jerusalem.