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Review: The Book of Henry

The Book of Henry
06.15.2017
2 10

PLOT: A precocious, brilliant eleven-year-old (Jaeden Lieberher) tries to save his neighbor (Maddie Ziegler) from her abusive stepfather (Dean Norris) with the help of his mother (Naomi Watts).

REVIEW: In the interest of not ruining THE BOOK OF HENRY for those of you that are genuinely interested in seeing it, I’m going to head this review off with a major spoiler warning. I disliked this movie so strongly that, were I to avoid spoilers completely, I wouldn’t be able to accurately describe why. Some movies just need to be deconstructed to keep people from wasting any time on them, and I truly think THE BOOK OF HENRY is one such film. If you’re gonna check it out one way or another, then nothing I write here will dissuade you. Suffice to say, I hated it.

Still with me? If, based on how the movie was sold, I were to tell you that in the last act Naomi Watts runs around in the woods toting a sniper rifle, wearing a leather catsuit and ready to commit murder because her precocious eleven-year-old son, before dying - in a possibly delirious state - told her it was a good idea, would you be surprised? And were the whole thing to be played with a bizarre sense of whimsy, would this be appealing?

If the answer’s yes, go see THE BOOK OF HENRY - you’re the audience Colin Trevorrow was likely aiming at. Everyone else should stay away unless they have a morbid curiosity as to just how badly a passion project can go awry. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of JURASSIC WORLD, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED was a gem, so I went into THE BOOK OF HENRY honestly wanting to give it a shot. A throwback to movies like THE BOY WHO COULD FLY and RADIO FLYER, which explored serious themes such as autism and child abuse with a fantastical tone (not that either of those movies were ever really regarded as successful), THE BOOK OF HENRY, in 100 minutes, covers terminal illness in children, and sexual abuse, probably the two most troubling things you could ever make a movie about short of genocide, but plays it for whimsy. FOR WHIMSY.

It’s a horrible pastiche, but it’s almost tolerable for the first hour thanks to Jaeden Lieberher as the titular Henry, who’s such a genius his stock tips have turned his mom, who’d rather play “Gears of War” on X-Box, into a millionaire, although she poses as a working-class waitress. It’s silly, but once he begins to suspect his next-door neighbor, played by Sia dancer Maddie Ziegler is being abused, it nearly switches gears, only for Trevorrow, for an oddball reason, to continue to pursue this Amblin’ aesthetic, which is quickly becoming a preoccupation for directors of his generation. If ever subject matter didn’t merit the circa ET-Spielberg treatment (right down to the John Williams-style score by Michael Giacchino) this is it.

The last half of the movie is especially bad, once the focus shifts to Watts. Her character callously ignores her other child (Jacob Tremblay - who doesn’t get much to do), and begins plotting a murder, with the scheme being treated as if it’s some GOONIES-style lighthearted adventure. Trevorrow’s approach is confounding. Nothing about the film, save Lieberher, works, not the least of which is a wackadoodle subplot where the doctor that treated her terminally ill son pursues Watts romantically. Had he not been played by the handsome Lee Pace, he would have come off like a stalker (a similar issue to PASSENGERS - a movie this actually reminded me a lot of). When even Watts can’t save your movie, you’ve got a problem.

THE BOOK OF HENRY really is Razzie-level bad, and a serious misfire for Trevorrow, who’ll still probably bounce back without too much effort once he plunges into STAR WARS: EPISODE IX (and he’ll do an OK job - one bad movie - even one as bad as this doesn’t automatically signal doom). It’s an awful curio that probably belongs on a “shelf of the dammed” next to movies like WINTER’S TALE and JUPITER ASCENDING. Hopefully it’ll get by without much notice, because this is truly one of the worst films I’ve seen in a good, long while.

Source: JoBlo.com

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