THE BOOK OF HENRY zero stars
2017, R, 113 mins.
Naomi Watts as Susan Carpenter / Jaeden Lieberher as Henry Carpenter / Jacob Tremblay as Peter Carpenter / Sarah Silverman as Sheila / Lee Pace as David / Maddie Ziegler as Christina Sickleman / Tonya Pinkins as Principal Wilder / Dean Norris as Glenn Sickleman / Bobby Moynihan as John
Directed by Colin Trevorrow / Written by Gregg Hurwitz
I've read that THE BOOK OF HENRY was made from on a near 20-year-old script from Greg Hurwitz, which is ultimately telling, seeing as the resulting film feels like it's about 20 years worth of re-writes away from becoming an admirable final product deserving of our consumption.
This is an
indefensibly awful movie that also happens to be unsavory and off-putting,
especially for the manner that it milks child abuse and terminal cancer as
cheap and manipulative plot devices to propel its illogically scripted
story from one nonsensical act to the next.
Even worse is that the film features people in front of and behind
the camera that are talented and have all collectively done good work
before. None of them, though, have participated in something so dramatically phony, poorly
conceived, and bafflingly scripted as this, a movie that I'm reasonably
sure that I thoroughly hated.
coming of age drama (if I could even call it that) will be next to
impossible without engaging in ample spoilers, but THE BOOK OF HENRY
definitely deserves to be seen in all future screenwriting classes to bare
witness as to how not to pen scripts.
This is a movie that literally needs to be seen to be believed,
mostly because it begins with modest promise and then devolves into plot
developments that never feel like they logically occupy a normal and
familiar plane of reality. There's
nothing inherently wrong with a drama that's daring to be different and
tries to cut itself from a very different creative cloth, but THE BOOK OF
HENRY is so illogically and hopelessly muddled in terms of its themes and wholeheartedly
is lacking in authentic emotional payoffs that
you're left wondering just what in the hell the intentions of the
filmmakers were. And I
frankly have no idea whatsoever what kind of film this was trying to be; it flirts with absurdity and laughably seesaws back and
forth from one inconsistent tone to the next.
As for its
overall story, THE BOOK OF HENRY begins as a pretty light and carefree
dramedy about a child prodigy that seems impossibly intelligent in all
facets of life. The
11-year-old boy genius in question is the titular Henry (played well by
Jaeden Lieberher, so resoundingly good in past films like MIDNIGHT
SPECIAL and this fall's IT), who
lives a fairly quiet and unassuming life with his mother Susan (Naomi
Watts) and his kid brother Peter (ROOM's
sensational Jacob Termblay). Henry
seems like the most responsible and mature member of his tight family
unit, seeing as Susan spends most of her days playing violent video games
when she's not boozing away her evenings with her BFF (Sarah Silverman).
Susan has aspirations to be a storybook writer and illustrator, but
instead works a lowly job as a waitress and frankly seems ill equipped at handling even basic parenting.
Henry bares most of the responsibilities of not only looking after his
younger sibling, but also the emotional and financial needs of his mother
(he even dabbles in the stock market for her, with stupendous levels of
success). Henry's focus on
his family takes a bit of a back seat when he becomes more acquainted
with a cute girl from next door, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), who
lives with her police commissioner stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris).
The more Henry observes his neighbors through open windows the
more abundantly clear it becomes that Christina is being habitually abused by her vile
father, which prompts Henry into action.
Even after Henry pleads with school officials to intervene when physical signs
of abuse appear on Christina's body, they're dealt with incredulity,
leaving the grimly determined Henry feeling like he alone must stop Glenn.
It's at this
point in the film when Henry starts developing headaches...then he's
diagnosed with brain cancer...and then he dies.
From this point
forward THE BOOK OF HENRY really, really
starts to spiral into a preposterously macabre black comedy/revenge thriller (I kid
you not). It appears that
Henry - before he died - wrote an eerily detailed journal about how to launch a
meticulously well planned mission to...assassinate Glenn...and get away with
it...and he left this "Book of Henry" with his mom in hopes that
she'll follow his dying wishes to seek bloody vigilante fuelled justice on
her evil neighbor. I mean,
this Henry has thought of everything for Susan, right down to weapon and
bullet choices, where to purchase them, how to take money out of multiple
bank machines as to not look suspicious to make said purchases, and even to when precisely to
shoot Glenn down in a cold pool of blood.
All of these instructions are relayed to her in a series of head
shakingly implausible audio cassette recorded instructions that only can
exist in a movie, replete with Henry not only giving his mommy advice from
the grave, but he also has a proper reply for every predicted question she
has about his disturbing plan, making it appear like their having a conversation that would
be, well, impossible otherwise.
Oh...and THE BOOK OF HENRY commences at a school talent show.
shaken my head with such startling disbelief while watching a movie as I
did with THE BOOK OF HENRY. There
are three to four genres all vying for attention here, none of which
coalesce together with any reasonable fluidity.
At first, the movie is a bright, cheery, and slice of life comedy
about kids growing up...then it becomes a three-hanky downer about a child
dying from an incurable disease...then a deplorable expose on child sexual
predators...and then finally a DEATH WISH inspired thriller about seeking
vengeance. The only thing
that the movie's script didn't do was to hurtle its characters into outer
space and on to alien worlds, and there reached a certain point in the
narrative where it felt like it could have happened.
The bewildering manner that this film tries to segue between all of
its wildly discordant tones creates an obtrusive whiplash effect in
viewers, which is awfully hard to recover from.
There's also a
nauseating creative arrogance that permeates THE BOOK OF HENRY; it thinks
it's cutting edge
and devilishly clever, but it confuses cheap scripting pallor tricks with
intelligent plot reveals. That,
and nothing ever feels remotely plausible in the film.
It's never once plausible that Susan would ever take it upon
herself to honor her dead son's wishes to assassinate their neighbor. It's never once plausible that the precocious little Henry
would be able to predict every query his mother would have about said
assassination mission with a quirky quip via an audio recording he made
months earlier before he died. It's never
plausible how Susan's suspicious activity would not draw the
attention of the authorities. It's
also not plausible that anyone that read this script well before the
shooting phase would have deemed it an acceptable final draft.
Lastly, it's never plausible how THE BOOK OF HENRY tries to be a
joyous celebration of life while also trying to be a movie about a
mourning mother and her dead son plotting to murder another human being.
For any movie to
receive a dreaded zero star rating from me it has to be either (a)
artistically bankrupted and/or (b) morally repugnant to its core.
I don't think that THE BOOK OF HENRY is artistically bankrupt,
mostly because the performances by Watts, Lieberher, and Tremblay are
thanklessly effective (the two young actors alone foster a level of
authenticity as on screen brothers that the film they occupy never once
attains). The problem here is that
no amount of confident and headstrong performances could have saved THE
BOOK OF HENRY from being disbelievingly artificial and in poor taste all
at the same time. But the
makers sure think that this film is more moving, uplifting, and amusing
than it actually is, and chief blame should go to director Colin
Trevorrow, whom previously made JURASSIC
WORLD (disliked by me) and SAFETY
NOT GUARANTEED (greatly admired by me).
Trevorrow has talent, no question, but he shows a schizophrenic
artistic disconnect in THE BOOK OF HENRY from dramatic reality that's
He was also recently and very publicly fired from directing STAR WARS: EPISODE IX. After watching this film...I now know why: Movies as inexcusably wrongheaded as THE BOOK OF HENRY would get any director shit canned from his next gig.