Even Oprah Wouldn’t Read THE BOOK OF HENRY

All hail! The first truly awful film of 2017 has arrived!

It’s usually a special thing when a director makes it big with a monsta blockbuster hit. It establishes him or her as someone to watch, and, more importantly, it gives said director enough clout with executives to let them realize that special passion project they’ve been nurturing for years. Usually. Other times, such an instance can have dire consequences, as we see this week with Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow’s follow-up family drama The Book of Henry. Visually gorgeous to look at, the film has plenty of ingredients to make a solid moviegoing experience. And yet, what ends up on the screen amounts to one of the worst movies of the year that is part Hallmark, part Showtime, and ALL bad.

In The Book of Henry, Naomi Watts stars as waitress/single mom Susan, who is raising her two boys, 8-year-old Peter (Jacob Tremblay) and 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). However, Henry doesn’t seem to need much raising given his superior level of intelligence, which is so advanced that one of his favorite past-times includes trading on the stock market in his mother’s name. However, when Henry begins to suspect that their next door neighbor Glenn (Dean Norris), the city’s police commissioner, is molesting his step-daughter Jessica (Maddie Ziegler), Henry is determined to put an end to it by any means necessary.

*Major Spoiler Alert*

The Book of Henry is essentially two films wrapped up into one. The first is a family drama about a single mom raising two sons on her own; at least, that’s what it appears to be on the surface. In actuality, Susan is only a part-time mom. a borderline alcoholic who packs dessert lunches for her sons and spends her leisure time playing video games while her children do homework. To be fair. though, Susan does love her children and there are plenty of moments in which she is seen being a genuinely caring mother. She’s just lucky social services doesn’t live next door. While the younger Peter is lucky to be unphased by his home environment, Henry is a odd marvel; a child so advanced in intellect, he’s literally amassed a fortune for Susan through trading. However, his mother doesn’t acknowledge this, but instead chooses to look at his actions as a childlike hobby. The problem with Henry is that he’s caustic, a bit impulsive, and slightly maniacal. In a way it’s easy to envision a future for Henry as a homegrown terrorist. Yet the movie shows this will never be a possibility by giving the kid a brain tumor and killing him off at the end of the first half, causing Susan to become even more of a wreck than she already is. When the tragedy happens, it’s heartbreaking to a small extent, yet doesn’t fully register because the family as a whole is such a mess.

It’s here where the second movie begins in the form of a vigilante thriller set up by the dead child when Peter gives Susan a notebook from Henry with detailed instructions on how to literally eliminate Glenn and free Jessica from her prison. While the still-grieving Susan is dismissive of this at first, she changes her mind after actually witnessing the abuse first hand. This leads to a series of ridiculous preparations featuring a nervous Susan buying an AK-47, practicing shooting in the park, sneaking her way into Glenn’s house to forge his signature and getting into the mental space to literally commit murder…because her dead son has told her to. It’s all an audience member can do from shouting at the screen, “Where in the hell are all the stable adults?!” The Book of Henry is trying for too much by attempting to blend pathos and suspense in the most reprehensible of ways, all the while throwing emotions at its audience with the speed of a machine gun. I’m a fan when genres are blended, but The Book of Henry is a hodgepodge of a movie with good intentions and absolutely no clue what to do with them.

There’s great chemistry between Watts and the boys playing her sons after having acted opposite both of them in the past (Lieberher in the much better St. Vincent and Tremblay in the underseen Shut In). Yet the characters Watts and Lieberher both play are so atrocious that the two actors don’t have the chance to do the kind of good work they’ve both proven to be capable of. Meanwhile, Norris, a barely verbal Ziegler, and Sarah Silverman (as Susan’s alcoholic friend) are all wasted, despite being eager to play. Only Tremblay succeeds here for two reasons: a) he’s the only one given a REAL character to play that’s actually explored, and b) he is a perceptive young actor who can find the truth and essence of his character and the world he’s in as if he’s a seasoned pro.

Credit must be given to Trevorrow for having the guts to venture into the specific territory that the film does, and for daring to make something as wildly offbeat as The Book of Henry, even though it fails at most of its aims. The Book of Henry is disturbing, depressing, and features one of the worst examples of parenting on screen in quite some time (and I’m not talking about the child molester). Worst of all, however, is that The Book of Henry is a film that’s being marketed for families. I can’t think of a single adult I would like to expose this movie to, let alone innocent children. I sincerely hope those parents who think differently have a Henry in their own neighborhood spying on them.

Previous post Make it a Double: ROUGH NIGHT & NOTHING BUT TROUBLE
Next post THE ASSIGNMENT: Walter Hill’s Gender Bending Contract Killer Thriller is a Trip