The Book of Henry
Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler. (2017, PG-13, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., June 16, 2017
There are many reasons we go to the movies. To laugh, to cry, to feel. Cinema can provide a balm for our souls and a glimpse into lives we would never know had we not bought the ticket (or more often, clicked play on our streaming service). What then, to make of The Book of Henry, one of the most ill-conceived films I have seen in recent memory. A story of a genius boy (he prefers the term “precocious”), Henry (Lieberher) who, when he’s not filling notebooks with Rube Goldbergian sketches and plans for his family’s future (Naomi Watts is the mom, Jacob Tremblay is the younger brother; no idea where the dad went), he’s balancing the checkbook and playing the stock market. Oh, and he dies of a brain tumor 30 minutes into the movie.
In a script that would have been killed in a first round of pitches in any Screenwriting 101 class, The Book of Henry then becomes a film about the notebooks that Henry left behind, and how Susan (Watts) and her remaining son Peter (Tremblay) deal with the fact that Henry has noticed that their next-door neighbor Christina (Ziegler) is being abused by her stepfather Glenn (Norris). Our first hint at Glenn’s unsavoriness is conveyed by his solemn admonishment that Susan keep the leaves from her trees off of his lawn, which is the movie’s shorthand for saying, “this guy is a real creep.” It doesn’t help that Dean Norris has nothing to do but look like Dean Norris, which is the extent of his character development. Henry has not only left detailed notebooks behind, describing an elaborate plan for Susan to free Christina from her stepdad’s clutches, but he also left audiotapes for her to listen to, complete with pauses and asides, as if they were having a conversation. It is a cheesy and maudlin conceit in a film that revels in both of those things. At the point in the film where Watts’ Susan is running through the forest with a sniper rifle, I was out. The Book of Henry is the most misguided film since the 2003 Gary Oldman abomination Tiptoes. Trevorrow is slated to helm an upcoming Star Wars film, so y’all have fun with that.