You can't escape the fact that The Book Of Henry takes risks. Not small ones, too. They're huge. So huge in fact that even teasing them would wreck the film's overall intentions.
But just being risky and surprising doesn't automatically make a film audacious and impressive. It can instead be detrimental. Sadly, the twists and turns of Colin Trevorrow's The Book Of Henry firmly fall in the latter category, as they make you feel frustrated, bored, and even a little startled at just how wildly and laughably inappropriate they make the film.
The Book Of Henry revolves around a child genius by the name of Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), who lives with his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) and mother Susan (Naomi Watts). Henry basically runs the family home, finances and everything of import, despite the fact that he is just 11. Ridiculously wise beyond his years, Henry's attention is piqued when his next neighbor and classmate Christina Sickleman (Maddie Ziegler) starts to exhibit signs of abuse, which he immediately assumes is at the hands of her step-father, Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris). The problem is, Glenn Sickleman is the chief of police, and his powerful position and army of allies means that any potential issue is immediately squashed. Henry ultimately devises a plan to try and expose Glenn. But can he convince the necessary adults to help him execute it?
Even before The Book of Henry brazenly swings into its poorly judged plot turns, you never feel either fully invested or entirely comfortable watching Trevorrow's film. Its script is overly expositional during its opening, it takes too long to actually set up the thrust of the plot, while the titular character is actually a little smug, condescending, and genuinely unlikeable. I know, I know, he's just a kid. But you're never too young to start being obnoxious. Midnight Special proved that Jaeden Lieberher can bring a compelling outer-world quality to characters, but this attribute is decidedly flat in The Book Of Henry, and instead the actor just looks bored for most of the film. Jacob Tremblay (Room) is much more bearable in his part as the younger brother, while Naomi Watts is valiant, especially considering the heft that she has to carry, and delivers one or two moments of emotional resonance. But there's just too much that's aghast with The Book Of Henry for her to even come close to salvaging the film.
Then there is the twist. Again, I'll remain vague. You can probably already tell, though, that I wasn't the biggest fan of this drastic yank. Which is a shame because I am a firm believer that cinema truly thrives when risks of this ilk are taken. But the twist in The Book Of Henry only sabotages what was already a pretty weak film, and because of it, you feel manipulated and used.
In many ways, The Book Of Henry wraps R-rated content in a PG body, and the lack of a proper fit is jarring. Of course, this means that it is neither one nor the other, and, ultimately, the story (and the cast) is left languishing in a cinematic purgatory of its own making that becomes excruciating to watch. Director Colin Trevorrow can't really get to the emotion of the plot, which is remarkable considering what transpires, thus rendering The Book Of Henry comparable to a soap opera rather than any other film, especially as there's no discernible mood, visual aesthetic, or gripping tension to grab on to.
With Star Wars 9, which Colin Trevorrow has co-written and will direct, on the horizon, we can only hope that this is a misstep from which he will quickly learn. Because while Safety Not Guaranteed put him on the map, and Jurassic World proved that he can appeal to a huge mainstream audience, The Book Of Henry is an unmitigated stinker from Trevorrow that should be avoided at all costs.
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