Sometimes the best of intentions just don’t work out. That is definitely the case with The Book Of Henry, a complete misfire that unsuccessfully tries to be two different movies and manages to blow both of them. As I say in my video review above, I was really disappointed because first it was directed by Colin Trevorrow, who has proved adept at both smaller (Safety Not Guaranteed) and bigger (Jurassic World) fare, and it features a great cast including Naomi Watts, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris and two terrific kid actors in Jaden Lieberher (St. Vincent) and Jacob Tremblay (Room).
I blame none of them, rather the ridiculously crafted and structured script, a hodgepodge of turgid family drama and ludicrous revenge thriller rolled into one. The culprit in this case is screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz, and what he has been given sole credit for concocting doesn’t work on any level.
In the film’s first half we meet Henry (Lieberher), a sharp kid bordering on genius who at 11 is more like the parent in the household run by single mom Susan (Watts). He watches out for younger brother Peter (Tremblay) and generally is wise beyond his years. Mom works as a waitress with her sharp-talking colleague Sheila (Silverman) but isn’t the brightest bulb around, certainly as compared to her son, but she does the best she can. Things take a turn when Henry notices strange and potentially bad things going on next door at the house of his friend Christina (Maddie Ziegler) that she shares with dad Glenn (Norris). We soon learn it is very bad, but things take an even nastier turn when Henry becomes very ill. He is also constantly working on a book of drawings and writings that will hold the key to the film’s biggest and most surprising twist, as Watts is forced to jump the shark and suddenly star in a revenge thriller her character is not equipped to handle. A credible gun-toting mama she ain’t.
The studio, Focus Features, has asked we not reveal the twists in the plot, and though I go into more detail (with a spoiler alert) in the video version of this review, I will spare you here except to say it is totally unbelievable and morally questionable at the very least. The film had potential just exploring the family dynamic of bringing up a young genius, and Lieberher is very fine in the role, but sadly the script goes in different directions from which it never recovers. Watts, who is in just about everything and always good, does what she can with this, but it’s hopeless. Trevorrow has given it a pro job behind the camera but there is nothing he can do to make it the least bit plausible, and that is a shame for The Book Of Henry which maybe started with a germ of a good idea but got terribly lost along the way.
Producers are Carla Hacken, Jenette Kahn, Sidney Kimmel and Adam Richman. Focus opens the film, originally dated for last September, today after its world premiere Wednesday night as the opening film of this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival — not an auspicious beginning for the fest, which likes to highlight the fact that nearly half of the films it features come from people of color or women. That certainly didn’t apply in this case, and I have to admit I am much more excited about some of its other programming including a title called Izzy Gets The F**k Across Town. Now that would have made for a great opening night.
Do you plan to see The Book Of Henry? Let us know what you think.