UK Release Date: 23rd June 2017
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Maddie Ziegler, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace
Synopsis: A precocious young boy, who believes the girl next door is the victim of child abuse, comes up with an elaborate plot to get her abusive father out of the picture – with his mother’s help.
I can’t remember a film in recent memory being critically mauled like The Book of Henry, which has been thrown around like an over-enthusiastic dog tearing at its owner’s slipper before burying it at the back of the garden, never to be seen again. Colin Trevorrow‘s oddball drama film has been welcomed with an array of one-star reviews, as well as a series of thinkpieces marvelling at how a film this bad ever got made. The actual film does not merit that peculiar brand of hype. It’s a bad film, for sure, but not one that merits any more discussion than the average misguided weepie.
Single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) has her parenting eased considerably by the fact that her precocious son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) looks after everything, from helping with younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) to earning the family a fortune on the stock market. Henry comes to believe over the course of several weeks that next door neighbour Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is being abused by her stepfather Glenn (Dean Norris) – who is protected by his status as the local police chief. Upset by the injustice, Henry begins to devise a plan to rescue Christina and remove Glenn from the picture.
There’s no doubt that The Book of Henry is a rather strange movie. It begins life as a tale of childhood intelligence in a similar vein to the recent – and much better – drama Gifted. The story, though, takes an abrupt left turn just before the midpoint and then becomes an unusual thriller, with Naomi Watts wielding an arsenal of guns and spouting lines as utterly absurd as “we are not murdering the police commissioner – and that is final” with a straight face. Indeed, much of the blame for the film’s failure must be placed at the door of novelist Gregg Hurwitz’s script.
Watts struggles manfully throughout the film, bearing the brunt of the script’s increasingly ludicrous dialogue. Jaeden Lieberher, in contrast, gets some relatively decent emotional material to work through and Jacob Tremblay, who was so brilliant in Room, gets the space his adorable shtick needs to make an impact. Any ambiguity that could’ve surrounded Dean Norris’ character is excised by the script way before it gets any chance to become interesting. This is a film that despises subtlety and is eager to smooth off any edges from the script as soon as possible.
For all of the press furore about how ridiculous The Book of Henry is, it plays out in largely conventional fashion for huge amounts of its running time. The subject matter may be strange and defiantly unusual, but Trevorrow plays everything very straight and ensures that the film is visually almost unidentifiable from any number of the cosy and unchallenging family dramas that fill cinemas throughout the year. Trevorrow seems to be getting a lot of the criticism when it comes to how the film has been received, but this certainly isn’t a film that has a clearly defined directorial voice.
As the drama amps up towards the final moments of The Book of Henry, there’s actually something of a rather impressive tension that builds as the thriller narrative moves to a conclusion. Unfortunately, with a pretty easy shot on goal in sight, the film instead trips over the ball and lands flat on its back with an entirely unsatisfying resolution in which anything difficult is kept well off screen and away from the gloss and comfort of the action. The Book of Henry isn’t what it has been sold as by the media, but it is rubbish.
Pop or Poop?
Naomi Watts is left up a creek without a script in The Book of Henry, which is a gooey and often wildly misjudged drama, directed by future Star Wars helmer Colin Trevorrow. The script is awful and the story bizarre, but this is simply a boring movie – not a future so-bad-it’s-good classic.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.