The Book of Henry is directed by Colin Trevorrow from a story by Gregg Hurwitz and stars Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay and Dean Norris.
This movie is…unusual with a plot that I won’t spoil but which will be very hard to talk about because this movie is really all over the place in terms of theme and storyline. I went in to this film with zero expectations, not even having seen a commercial or trailer for it and open to anything, but I gotta tell you that that may well be the only way for you to take in what this movie has to offer. The trailer basically hits on all the main plot points but connecting the dots between a single mother, her gifted 11-year old son and the police commissioner with a terrible secret who lives next door is the challenge this movie takes on and it does so in perhaps one of the most unusual and unbelievable ways possible. It was almost impossible to predict while watching where this movie was going, because it is all over the place thematically, pushing and pulling you up and down an emotional rollercoaster. The advance screening audience I saw the movie with seemed to like it and even applauded at the end, but other reviews I’m seeing are coming down hard on this film for being a hopeless mess. My take is somewhere in between.
Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay were both featured in Shut In, a horror movie so bad I would put it on the list of Top 10 Most Boring Films I’ve Ever Seen. But like that film, it’s not the acting that is at fault in The Book of Henry, it is 100% the screenplay. Almost any movie you see has three basic acts – an introduction or setup, a conflict or confrontation and a resolution. Generally speaking you are introduced to a set of characters in a given circumstance, those circumstances change in some significant way and the characters then react and usually grow in some fashion because of those circumstances and the movie’s conflict resolves. Now if you can imagine each of these three acts being almost entirely different movies using the same characters in ways almost totally divorced from the other acts, then you can start to imagine how jarring and weird this movie is. It goes from a light-weight, even silly, portrait of a single-parent family to a jarring but intense depiction of loss and grief to a suspense thriller. The only thing that actually makes this movie work at all is the quality of Naomi Watts’ portrayal of Susan, mother to child prodigy Henry (as brilliantly played by Jaeden Liberher) and his younger brother Peter. Dean Norris does creepy wonderfully well as their next door neighbor while young actress Maddie Ziegler is wasted as Norris’ daughter Christina. Her performance is great with what she’s given, but there was room for so much more development.
My problem with this film is that it takes basically odd but well-realized characters from the First Act into places that are so unrealistic that it’s almost jolting, keeping the audience off-pace with such strange mixtures of suspense, grief, laughter and light banter from one scene to the next that you are never sure what to expect, but not really in a good way. In the end, the film resolves as one predicts it would, which makes the strange journey even weirder.
I’m giving The Book of Henry a rating of Meh. This movie is a kind of experiment in taking all the rules of script writing and turning them on their ear. Whereas I’m all about breaking rules and doing something original, in the end, this film really just demonstrates why those rules exist in the first place. Let me know what you think in the comments below and if you haven’t yet done so, now is a great time to subscribe to my channel. Thanks for coming around and I’ll see you next time.