Awfully Good: The Book of Henry

Let's kick off 2018 with one of my favorite bad movies of 2017...­

The Book of Henry (2017)

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Stars: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay

A young genius named Henry dies and leaves behind a book for his mother. A BOOK OF MURDER.

There's no way to talk about the glorious badness of this movie without just spoiling the whole thing. You've been warned.

Unlike a lot of the films in this column, BOOK OF HENRY does not suffer from issues of execution. It's competently made from a technical standpoint, has fine performances from its talented cast, and even has a great score by the dependable Michael Giacchino. No, BOOK OF HENRY's issues go much deeper then that: a truly terrible idea from conception. If there was a Planned Parenthood for movies, this should be first in line.

No, Naomi, you can't give your own movie two thumbs up.

"A heartwarming family movie about an 11 year old boy who suddenly dies from a brain tumor and leaves behind step-by-step instructions for his mother to murder their abusive neighbor and get away with it scot-free." ¡û This is the concept that multiple people in Hollywood were pitched and responded with "Yes! Take millions of dollars! The world needs to witness this story!" Now there are different ways to approach this material. (Apparently, when the script was originally written in the 1990s, it was a black comedy, which makes way more sense.) But turning it into a sappy and quirky Amblin movie just feels like the absolute worst choice and suggests a level of tone-deafness that makes me concerned for Colin Trevvorow's well-being. No wonder Lucasfilm took one look at this and suddenly had "creative differences" with him directing EPISODE IX.

You'd wear a helmet like that too if you were the one plunging Shailene Woodley's toilet.

Perhaps if BOOK OF HENRY was as endearing or charming as it thinks it is, it wouldn't be so bad. However, the characters are constantly unlikable or unsympathetic, especially the title character, who comes off as such a smarmy asshole. He's a next-level genius, but he treats everyone in the movie like garbage. He shows his mom how to download a file a file on their computer and then immediately says, "Show me what I just taught you¡­" When he doesn't like the way something's going at school he walks out of class, bursts in to the principal's office unannounced and yells, "Godammit, Janice!" He mocks his mom's poor friend for being an alcoholic and having out-of-style clothes. He's pretty much a colossal prick in a pint-sized body. So when the whole murder subplot kicks in, it feels a little snide and vindictive instead of something with 100% good intentions.

Hey, Naomi Watts feels the same way I do about Henry and this movie!

Naomi Watts is even worse as Henry's mom, who's written so infantile that it feels like a bad SNL sketch. She's constantly swearing and smoking in front of her two young children, even when they beg her not to. She sits around and plays Call of Duty while her pre-teen son pays her bills and does her taxes. She feeds them dessert for breakfast, lunch and dinner when all they want is fruit. Even when her son is dying from a seizure in the hospital, she can't sign the consent forms because "Henry does all the paperwork."

But most damning for her character is the fact that when Watts' 11 year old son's dying wish is for her to essentially become The Punisher and seek murderous retribution against their next door neighbor¡ªshe actually agrees to do it. And not just casually poison him or cause some kind of an accident. Henry's arranged for her to buy a high-powered sniper rifle with untraceable fragmenting bullets and blow off his head. At no point does she consider the fact that her child literally had a massive brain tumor when he came up with this idea. Nope. Any hesitation or doubt she has is tossed away with a joke, when she tells her other five year old son: "We are not murdering the police commissioner and that is final!"¡­ and in the next scene is shown at the target range training to be Frank Castle.

The only way to get THE RING TWO and MOVIE 43 off your IMDB page.

You may be wondering why Henry has it out for the neighbor Glenn (played sneeringly by Dean Norris from Breaking Bad). Henry suspects that he is abusing his stepdaughter, but no one from the school believes him and the neighbor is a cop whose brother is in charge of child abuse complaints for their town. Keep in mind no one ever actually witnesses the girl being abused or sees any physical evidence, nor does she ever admit it. Henry just notices her being quiet and acting weird at school. Time to murder her stepdad!

[Side Note: If anything, Henry's mom should be out to kill Lee Pace, the creepy doctor from the hospital, who, in a completely pointless subplot, randomly keeps showing up for unsupervised visits with her other younger son (played by a severely underutilized Jacob Tremblay) after Henry's death.]


When Henry's mom finally goes through with Henry's plan, the movie takes a jackknife turn in to Nutsville. In addition to a notebook with detailed murder instructions and illustrations (which seriously looks like something a serial killer would make), Henry also left his mom a tape recorder to literally talk her through the execution. And not just broad ideas, but perfectly-timed, conversational walking directions that anticipate her every action. As in Henry's mom walks around the city with headphones in: "Walk 10 feet to this ATM. Withdraw $500. Yes, Mom, that is enough money. Don't swear. Now turn right. No, your other right." It gets weirder and weirder the deeper Watts get in to it until eventually Henry is teaching her how to fire a gun and saying "Good shot, Mom!" when she finally hits the target. There was a point where I legitimately thought the twist would be that Henry is some omniscient deity or alien. That would at least make more sense than what we're given.

He was great with kids, but Captain Dandruff's superpowers left a lot to be desired.

You can probably guess that Watts gets all the way to the end of the plan, but, just as she has Glenn's head in the scope of her sniper rifle, has a change of heart. However, you'll never guess what pre-empts this sudden bout of common sense. As Henry's mom is about to pull the trigger, she accidentally flinches and sets off an intricate Rube-Goldberg device that Henry had built in his treehouse, the culmination of which simply displays a bunch of his baby photos right in front of his mom. Mom sees this and finally realizes, "Holy shit, I'm about to commit first degree murder at the behest of a kid" and stops.

But don't feel bad that the alleged child abuser gets away. Because at the same time as the attempted assassination, there's a talent show going on at Henry's school. During the show, Glenn's stepdaughter does a dance performance that's so powerful and so perfectly conveys all her pain and struggle that the principal finally realizes that Henry was right about her being abused and calls the cops. So, at the end of the day, it's not Henry that saves the girl, but THE POWER OF DANCE. (This is 100% true. I'm not making this up.) When Glenn sees the cops coming to the house, he kills himself. So he dies anyways, the little girl is safe and goes to live with Henry's family thanks to some court documents that he taught his mom how to forge, and Naomi Watts gets a replacement kid for her dead one. Everyone lives happily ever after!

It's funny that Henry doesn't want to murder this older woman being inappropriate with a child.

2018, you have some big shoes to fill when it comes to movies that are dumb beyond legally permissible levels.

Henry being a douche and Naomi Watts being a bad parent. Also, child rapping.

A sampling of Henry helping Naomi Watts kills their neighbor from beyond the grave.

Sarah Silverman shows an inappropriate amount of cleavage to the children.

You won't be able to put it down! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:
  • Naomi watts acts like a child
  • Henry acts like a douche
  • Someone is called an enchilada
  • Henry says something improbably on the tape
  • Sarah Silverman's cleavage is distracting
Double shot if:
  • Naomi Watts does a stupid handshake

Thanks to Matt, Shawn and Dev for suggesting this week's movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.

Source: JoBlo.com



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