Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) was touched by God. He wrote about it in an inspirational best-seller that touched readers around the world. That was 20 years ago. Since then, he has been a recluse in a Philadelphia townhouse, hiding from the world - and himself. The world knocks on Arlen's door but he does not answer.

The Answer Man, a diverting dramedy of human and spiritual connection, is set in the rosy light and full bud of a spring when the thorny Arlen gets coaxed outside and into bloom.

Written and directed by John Hindman (and retitled from The Dream of the Romans), the rookie feature costars the wistful Lauren Graham as a chiropractor who readjusts Arlen and the wiry Lou Taylor Pucci as a bookseller who consults Arlen for advice. Obviously indebted to James L. Brooks' As Good as It Gets, the film follows three broken spirits who help mend one another.

Though his film is a tad choppy and a lot chatty, Hindman elicits sympathetic performances from leads who demonstrate a deep understanding of movie physics. When the story grows heavy, they carry themselves with a lightness that leavens its gravity. It's a film that is likable even when its characters decidedly are not. It doesn't hurt that Hindman sees Philadelphia through the same kind of lovestruck eyes through which Woody Allen regards Manhattan.

The Answer Man *** (out of four stars)

Directed by John Hindman. With Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, and Lou Taylor Pucci.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity).

Playing at: At the Prince Music Theater today at 8:30 p.m. (where Jeff Daniels will receive the Artistic Achievement Award) and the Ritz East tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl.