Content Warning: This review contains mentions of rape, as depicted in the film.
The Book of Henry is bad. It just is. It is a movie that understands nothing all the while pretending that it knows everything. The fact that it was made by successful and talented people who all made conscious decisions to make this is deeply troubling on a spiritual and evolutionary level.
It’s almost impossible to describe The Book of Henry to someone who hasn’t seen it. This is not because it’s so bad it’s traumatizing. This is because the movie is so bonkers and hilariously ignorant on what or how reality operates that it’s hard to know where to start.
Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is an eleven-year-old child prodigy. Of the many things the film gets wrong, this is merely one of them. It doesn’t understand how intelligence works. Henry isn’t just smart he’s ‘all knowing smart.’
This is a boy who plays the stock market on the pay phone outside his elementary school while waiting for his mother Susan (Naomi Watts) to pick up Henry and his brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). (Side Note: Why is there a pay phone outside of an elementary school?) He builds rube Goldberg contraptions in his treehouse made of random junk parts while philosophizing with his brother.
The movie goes through great pains to show you how mature and grounded Henry is compared to his mother. Susan plays Gears of War while Henry does the finances. When her boss at the diner asks Susan if she wants to switch to direct deposit, she replies, “I’ll have to ask Henry.” One night after a few glasses of wine Susan confides in her best friend/co-worker Sheila (Sarah Silverman) that she wishes she could find a man as smart and mature as Henry. Sheila’s response is a simple “So would I!”
Sheila and Henry share an antagonistic sitcom relationship. She calls him Hank, he corrects her and then insults her. She then insults them back. The relationship then goes full creepy when Sheila visits Henry in the hospital. Henry’s been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, so she’s gone to make amends. Henry promptly diagnoses their relationship, using a term I had never heard of before, and then confesses he finds her attractive. He then admits that he knows she has feelings for him but that he’s only eleven.
Sheila then kisses Henry on the lips and leaves. Now at this point, you’re probably wondering when did Henry get a brain tumor? I don’t know. He got a headache one night, went to get some aspirin, got out of bed for some water, and saw the girl across the street get raped by her stepfather. Henry ignores later headaches so he could investigate the abuse he’s witnessed.
This movie is insane. This is only the first act. It never stops. I just sat there in open-mouthed wonderment as the film unfolded before me. Henry, who before he witnessed the incident, had already deduced that Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is being abused by her stepfather. One day during class he notices some new bruises and stalks out of the classroom. Henry storms into the principal’s office and says and I’m quoting, “Jesus, Janice, what’s it going to take?”
God help me if “Dammit Janet” didn’t start playing through my head. But I couldn’t sing it for too long because we find out that Christina’s father Glenn (Dean Norris) is the town’s police commissioner. If that wasn’t enough, the head of the local Child Advocates chapter is Glenn’s brother.
What’s a boy to do? Well, he can’t do much, as I said at the end of Act One he’s dying in a hospital bed of a brain tumor. The rest of the movie deals with Susan coping with her grief. She does this by making odd dessert concoctions and executing sweet murder combos in Gears of War.
But what about the title you may ask. If Henry dies so early in the movie what or how is there a book? The title is about the book Henry makes detailing in minute and reasoned detail regarding why the only thing anyone can possibly do to save Christina from next door is to kill Glenn. Oh and he also leaves an audiotape so he can verbally instruct Susan on where to buy the gun illegally, how to lure Glenn out into the woods so when his body drops from her sweet and just bullet to his skull, it can roll into the river never to be seen from again. Oh and also where and how to dispose of the gun. Dude, that kid thinks of everything.
Colin Trevorrow directed The Book of Henry in such a way that if one were to glance at it with the sound off, you would never guess at the demented madness that lies within. Trevorrow and his cameraman John Swartzman shoot the movie like it’s a Hallmark offering. There’s a brisk, sunny New England feel to the whole thing that only amplifies the lunacy of every damn thing that happens.
The Book of Henry aims to be a feel good warm story about small town America, while also trying to act as if it’s about how the universe is this wild and crazy thing and you never know where life is going to take you. But then it’s also about how a grown woman listens to her dead son, buys a gun from the town’s black market, and attempts to assassinate the town’s police commissioner for repeatedly abusing his stepdaughter. Trevorrow tries to blend the three movies, but they don’t belong within a country mile of each other.
Trevorrow makes bizarre decision after bizarre decision. The highlight of the movie is when Susan is preparing to shoot Glenn. Trevorrow edits the film so as to cut between Susan setting her sniper rifle up and the elementary talent show that her other, still-living son, Peter is at. When she has Glen in her crosshairs, literally, Trevorrow still cuts back to the elementary talent show only to see Christina perform a ballet dance number.
Bonkers movie! You are bonkers! I haven’t even told you about the part where Susan plays the ukulele and sings to her boys. It’s a full song. The murder mom vs. abusive stepfather movie stops so she can sing a bedtime song.
The script by Gregg Hurwitz is to blame, of course. But to be fair he only wrote it; everyone else decided to actually make it. The most offensive thing is how lazy the script is. Hurwitz would have us believe that an eleven-year-old boy while dying of a brain tumor, was capable of sneaking out of the hospital every night. That Henry walked home every night, barefoot, still in the hospital gown, and then snuck BACK into the hospital without anyone noticing. Also, remember Henry has a tumor in his skull crushing his brain, so he still has the mental capacity to intricately plot a murder, and it’s cover up, arrange for Christina to be adopted by Susan, write it all down AND record it on what must be several tapes.
I’m not going to lie I laughed my ass off. The Book of Henry is easily one of the worst movies of 2017. A year that is already shaping up to be a stacked year for bad movies.
If it feels like I’ve given everything away, know two things: 1.) I haven’t told you the outcome. 2.) Nor have I told you what Peter’s magic trick for the elementary talent show is. Hint: It’s a metaphor for his ashes.