The Book of Henry
I was looking forward to this movie for a number of reasons. First, Jacob Tremblay. He was so great in Room a few years ago, and after talking to him and his parents at the Critics’ Choice awards the year he won — I was anxious to see his next film. Second, being at a luncheon during CinemaCon and hearing Naomi Watts talk about it. Third (and this isn’t a spoiler alert, as it’s shown in the commercials), I love movies where a child molester or rapist gets taken care of. And we see that this child genius is going to do that. Lastly, it was directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow. While I wasn’t a fan of his Jurassic World, his debut in 2012 was Safety Not Guaranteed, which was one of my favorite movies that year.
Unfortunately, Trevorrow takes this from being an unrealistic child genius story, to a manipulatively sad story, to a Hitchcock style craziness that never for a second works. I realized there’d be problems when a teacher gives 11-year-old kids an assignment to talk about what their legacy would be. Huh? What happened to book reports, or what you did over the summer? After Henry (Jaeden Lieberher of St. Vincent and Midnight Special) gives a genius answer, the teacher asks why he is in that class and not in a school for gifted kids. It was just like the scene we saw a few months ago in Gifted (Chris Evans).
In the early scenes where Susan Carpenter (Watts) is taking care of her kids, she’s terrific. She has a cute line about piranha in the bathtub, reads them bedtime stories, all the usual garden variety mom behavior. Yet as the movie goes on, her relationship with Henry just seems…odd. He snaps at her to stop playing violent video games. He works on the checkbook and snaps at her for not giving him some receipts. Oh, and sells stocks on the phone like he’s Charlie Sheen in Wall Street. It’s very odd. Surely a better script might have shown him doing that in a more interesting and believable way.
There’s Carpenter’s best friend from the diner where she waitresses. She’s played by Sarah Silverman, channeling Amy Winehouse and Flo from Alice. Her alcoholism is played for laughs, for some reason. And she has a weird scene with Henry where they say absolutely nothing profound to each other, when they should’ve. It ends with her grabbing him and kissing him on the lips, which my wife and I found disturbing. It made absolutely no sense, and upon reflection, makes me wonder if Henry should have also come up with a plot to take her out.
I don’t even mind that this is a child prodigy that, like in Hollywood movies, doesn’t just play Mozart on the piano at age 3. He can pretty much do everything. It’s in the second half of the movie when he manipulates his mom in a way that no child genius would have been able to do, and in a way that isn’t the least bit plausible. He’s also the perfect big brother, always keeping his younger sibling away from the bullies and making him laugh when he’s down. About the only thing this kid can’t do is rake leaves.
The plot thickens when (as you see in the trailer) the next door neighbor, Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris of Breaking Bad), who has to be the bad guy with a name like that….goes from yelling at the neighbors to keep the leaves on their side of the lawn, to possibly molesting his step-daughter (Maddie Ziegler of Sia video fame). Ah, nothing like a good family drama with child geniuses that involves child molestation. And correct me if I’m wrong, but…if you were molesting a child, or doing some other illegal activity in your house, wouldn’t step one be to make sure your curtains are closed? And they show us this in the weirdest way. There’s a blue light on in her room, and when Henry looks out his window, he sees the father go upstairs, and…all we see is his shocked face. The scene is done the same way with his mom. The direction it goes when the abuse is reported is the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen on screen. None of the people would have done the things they did. The principal of the school ignoring it. The child protective services…who is run by this guy’s brother…it’s all such hogwash.
I was all prepared to love the crazy device Henry designs to kill the child molester, too. When you find out what his plan actually is…you’ll probably die laughing at the stupidity of it. Especially after we see how reliant his mother is on Henry, needing him to advise her on even simple tasks like signing a form a doctor asks her to. Yet we assume she’d be able to help in this elaborate plan.
There’s also a subplot with a Dr. McDreamy that’s ludicrous on so many levels, which I can’t explain without giving stuff away.
There were a handful of scenes in the movie that worked, but it’s just baffling as to how a movie could be made so poorly.
The Book of Henry…well, Hank stank.
It gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.