Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) is dying of an unnamed disease, so he decides to buy a rundown tract home and hasten his end via heavy drinking. But Poole’s solitary existence is soon disrupted by two female neighbors: lovely Dawn (Radha Mitchell, absolutely radiant), a divorcée with a young daughter who hasn’t spoken a word since her parents broke up, and Esperanza (Adriana Barraza, excellent), who claims that a stain on Henry’s stucco wall is the face of Jesus.

Henry is totally annoyed by Esperanza’s faith, and when she brings over a priest (George Lopez) to inspect the apparition, then follows up by inviting members of her church, he determines to erase the offending spot by washing it out. When that doesn’t succeed, and a nearsighted cashier at the local supermarket claims her 20-20 eyesight has been restored after touching the wall, Poole begins to wonder if there isn’t something to all this frenzy after all. That, and his growing relationship with the down-to-earth Dawn, soon brings change, and hope, into Henry’s life.

Director Mark Pellington’s film is nothing if not watchable and offbeat—I can’t think of another picture whose central plot point is an apparition of Christ. But despite fine work from all the leads, Henry Poole Is Here never really figures out what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a film about religious conviction? About the restoration of hope? Or is it just another attempt to show how the love of a good woman can bring a depressed male out of his funk?

There is, in other words, a certain schmaltz element in the film—hot divorcée with troubled daughter meets bummed-out guy, and they learn to love and laugh together—which tends to undercut its more serious aspects. It’s as if screenwriter Albert Torres realized he could have made an interesting statement about the parameters of faith, but shied away at the last minute, because he was afraid that would undercut Henry Poole’s commercial potential.

Yet let’s be honest here: Even with its failures, Henry Poole Is Here takes on material that very few filmmakers even attempt. For that reason alone, the picture deserves respect.