The Book of Henry (2017) Review
Die, Cry, and Bittersweet
Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is an incredibly gifted 11-year-old. He’s the smartest kid in school and the most level-headed individual in his household. He also has a hobby of building intricate devices (think Mouse Trap or Wile E. Coyote inventions that actually work) and makes financial investments all while taking care of the bills at home. Meanwhile his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is a normal boy who gets bullied at school and just wants to be like his older brother. Meanwhile their mother Susan (Naomi Watts) mostly plays video games after a long day of waitressing at the local diner all before ending her evening with getting drunk with her co-worker and best friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman).
Henry has a red book he’s been using to plan on saving his next door neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler). Christina is beaten and abused by her stepfather Glenn Sicklemann (Dean Norris), but Glenn is able to get away with it thanks to the many connections he has acquired over the years by being a well-respected police officer. Since no one else will help Christina, Henry takes matters into his own hands. However devastation strikes the Carpenter family and Henry must rely on his mother to finish what he started.
Crime novelist and comic book author (30 issues of Batman: The Dark Knight and 30+ issues of Punisher among many others) Gregg Hurwitz wrote the first draft of The Book of Henry screenplay all the way back in 1998. Director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World) was brought in as director, but production was delayed so Trevorrow could finish Jurassic World. With the ludicrousness that transpires over the course of The Book of Henry’s bloated hour and 45 minute duration, you can see why a film can stay in the gestation period for so long.
The first 40 or so minutes of this dramatic thriller are fairly solid. You become entranced with the chemistry shared between Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, and Naomi Watts. Lieberher continues to portray the type of too-smart-for-his-own-good kind of character that he jump-started with St. Vincent while Tremblay expands upon the innocence and naivety that he became known for in Room. Watts is like a lost puppy as Susan Carpenter. She has the nurturing part of motherhood down, but is completely clueless as her eyes glaze over in a hazy state of bewilderment whenever important or adult decisions need to be made. Watts steals the film once grief and loss become the focal point of the picture.
The rest of the film is frankly unbelievable trite. What begins as an interesting premise stretches out for far too long and is something that has to be dangled in front of the characters repeatedly before it finally sets in. Emotional moments in the film take a turn for the worst as they overstay their welcome and bleed over into sappy and overdramatic territory. Sobbing for ten minutes in a hospital bed seems like overkill as it is, but following that up with someone else walking into the room and doing the same thing before hugging their knees in the fetal position and making nothing but dessert for days at a time is like using sixteen cans of Raid to fuel a flamethrower aimed at a giant ant hill.
The finale of The Book of Henry takes a flying leap into, “Duh!” territory and the Dr. David Daniels character played by Lee Pace seems to only be relevant because Pace likes sticking his beard in places it doesn’t belong. The character is pointless and unnecessary once the film leaves the hospital. Meanwhile Susan’s little escapade to the gun shop and how far she takes a plan left by an 11-year-old recording a book on tape is beyond farfetched even for an elongated melodrama.
The Book of Henry is like the soggy, moistness left by the saddest moments of Phenomenon accepted a warm yet unwanted embrace from The Lovely Bones while Rear Window spied on them through binoculars from the house next door. The lead actors put everything they can into their performances and it shows, but even the likes of Naomi Watts can’t save a drama built on a poorly constructed, overdeveloped, weakly executed, and immature scheme of something a normal thinking adult would have brushed off immediately. If you wanted to badly explain the film plot of The Book of Henry then it could be summed up as a dead baby scavenger hunt.