THE BOOK OF HENRY
Directed by: Colin Treverrow
Written by: Gregg Hurwitz
Featuring: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Martell, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler
Susan Carpenter works as waitress in café whilst raising her two children single-handed, Peter and Henry. Luckily for her Henry is a genius prodigy and despite Susan’s somewhat out of kilter lifestyle he runs the household managing the finances and investing in the stock market, all the while designing and creating Heath-Robinson-like devices and looking after his younger brother Peter. One day Henry discovers that a schoolmate, the pretty, talented dancer, Christina, also his next-door neighbour, is being abused by her stepfather. How will Henry help Christina and his mother when he has some serious problems of his own?
It’s difficult to go too much into the story of the Book of Henry without completely ruining it for anyone who has yet to see the film. So, for the purposes of this ‘opinion’ I will entirely outline how the film was made and performed.
Simply said the Book of Henry appears to start off as one type of film/story and ends up as another, only to flip back at the denouement. That is the films great strength and equally its biggest weakness. The idea is fascinating and the story somewhat different, but the execution is poor, really poor, and actually in hindsight really sloppy.
Despite some reviews I saw after the event Jaeden Martell, the Nazi-teen in ‘Knives Out’, is good in the pivotal role of ‘Henry’ and from my limited experience of a prodigy gets it more or less correct. If nothing he is too nice at points, annoying his peers with ‘as matter of fact’ statements, simultaneously shattering their childish dreams. I have actually seen this happening in real life. The role of Peter, by Jacob Tremblay is a cinematic artifact he is only there to show how kind and nice Henry is, he could have been a pet cat and therefore the actor, no matter how young, is left with little to work with. Naomi Watts plays her role well and looks the part of a slightly dippy world-worn single mum, she isn’t glamourous and does not have ceramic, perfectly even, glow-in-the-dark teeth, all good. The journey Susan goes on, particularly at the end is frankly ridiculous, does not play to her character or how she is throughout the story and makes little to no sense.
Here in lies the rub. Henry and his mother, have no real proof of what is going on next door, Christina, who mainly looks sad and says ‘I’m fine’ for most of the film never tells anyone or confirms the heinous events that are supposed to be happening. Therefore, the crux of the story, the reason, for us watching, are sort of nebulous and looked at in a cold manner, illegal. Although it must be said Maddie Ziegler who plays Christina is a superb dancer and she does get to show that off. Here, she is another actor given little to work with. Henry’s solution seems illogical and does not follow his way of thinking as demonstrated prior to the ‘events’ beginning.
If you are in the right frame of mind this film is light and interesting entertainment but like a lot of output these days, particularly in this type of thriller-drama, ten minutes after the film finishes the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘hang on a gosh-darn minute’.
The plot-holes and inconsistent tone are big enough to drive two very big trucks through, side by side.
The surprises, suspense and tugging of the heartstrings are all there in this film and work well, I never got bored, but the adult logic, the ‘you’re supposed to take this seriously’ side is barely clinging on at the start and has dropped into the void as we get the final third.
The Book of Henry gets weaker as it progresses and certain ideas and scenes do not ring true, even within the universe of the film, and here days later I’m still trying to figure out what Lee Pace was doing in the story or why and how the school principal got or indeed kept her job as she seems to go from playing by the book with Henry to at the end acting on one single hunch, at a dance performance. Of course, we also have a scene with the poorly used and written Sarah Silverman that is a bit yukky or ‘WFT?’ considering the topic on display. Ludicrous.
Writer Greg Hurwitz has some clunkers in his credits and seems to have great ideas that he either lacks the support of his production teams or his own confidence fails him to fully flesh them out and create a decent story. If you make a film featuring adult themes, with real world things happening in them, made for adults, please for goodness sake treat us like adults.
Director Colin Treverrow is clearly king of the ‘wow that looks cool dude’ directors but absolutely does not care at all if anything you see on the screen for two hours or so makes any logical sense whatsoever, unfortunately he is not directing surrealist arthouse. He directed Jurassic World, enough said.
The Book of Henry is an interesting premise and I watched it from beginning to end without losing interested so from this point of view it works, but it is tone-deaf, illogical and afterward annoyed me more than it should.
A great idea ruined by what I feel was lazy and sloppy execution, shame. Must try harder.