‘The Book of Henry’ is a Woefully Misguided Misfire

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The Book of Henry

Between massive blockbusters in Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode IX, director Colin Trevorrow steps behind the camera to helm a quieter type of movie in The Book of Henry. The story of a gifted young mind and his unusual family unit could be a chance for the director to highlight his ability to bring powerful emotions to the screen, but that’s not quite the kind of movie that The Book of Henry is. Instead, it’s a dull slog of half-baked conventions and ill-defined characters that meanders about without much a purpose until its ludicrous final act. The Book of Henry is a disaster, but it’s not even the kind of fun disaster where you can laugh at the bewilderment caused by bad storytelling choices. This is simply a very boring movie that is a pain to sit through.

Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is a character that could only be created by a screenwriter. He’s an 11-year-old with a genius-level intellect and often talks as if he’s a prepubescent 40-year-old. Henry oversees the family finances, including an aggressive investment strategy, for his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), who is preoccupied with her job and raising her youngest son Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Simply, Henry is the adult in the household, tending to complicated matters while his mother plays video games. Susan is under no obligation to work because of Henry’s Wall Street mastery but continues to work a job at a local diner with her friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Perhaps at this point in my synopsis you’re beginning to ask yourself, “Where in the hell is this going?” The answer, sadly, is not something the movie is eager to answer.

Fair warning, this review will dive into spoiler territory, though there’s no bigger spoiler than the fact The Book of Henry is so lifelessly inept.

There’s an altruistic streak to Henry, with the young man eager to intervene when he sees something going wrong. He’s eager to intervene for his neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler), who exhibits all of the signs of being abused by her stepfather Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris). It just so happens that Glenn Sickleman is the local police commissioner and his connections prevent any reports of his abuse from going forward. This leads Henry to meticulously plot out a way to kill Glenn since the boy genius finds apathy much more abhorrent than violence. Again, don’t think that this woefully misguided story is actually fun to witness. It all just plods along with little cohesive purpose for the most part.

Then The Book of Henry continues with its odd turns when it’s revealed that Henry has a massive brain tumor. The obnoxious young man understands that his diagnosis is a death sentence and his conversations with Dr. David Daniels (Lee Pace) indicate that this 11-year-old has accepted his fate. Henry then begins to make sure the house’s finances are in order. Most importantly, Henry makes sure to leave behind a meticulously detailed notebook with his plans to kill Glenn Sickleman so that his mother may finish the job for him. The dying child takes it a step further, leaving behind an audiotape where he coaches his mother from beyond the grave. Every little detail has been foreseen by this dying boy, right down to his mother making a wrong turn or becoming apprehensive.

The Book of Henry was already struggling with a silly and outlandish concept but the final moments of the film further emphasize just how rudderless this movie is. I can’t stress this enough, it’s not fun to behold in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. In his third feature as a director, Colin Trevorrow can’t even fail spectacularly. The director struggles with the themes that he wants to bring to the screen, and bungles each and every one in the worst way possible. There’s simply no personality to any aspect of the film, making it indistinguishable from countless other bad movies by bad directors. Say what you will about bad films by Zack Snyder or Michael Bay, at least they bring a sense of distinct personality to their misfires. The Book of Henry is so bad that simply anyone could’ve made it.

There are just so many baffling choices in the screenplay by Gregg Hurwitz, and Trevorrow shows no feel for how to handle any of the aspects of the story. The quirky kid genius aspects of the film are simply grating, and Henry is just an obnoxious character that isn’t easy to like in the slightest. Then when Henry is faced with death and succumbs to his illness, Trevorrow and Hurwitz bring forth a cartoonish examination of grief that, again, is just so bland its more tasteless aspects aren’t even ironically funny. The most deplorable aspect to The Book of Henry is how the character of Christina is handled. Here is a character subject to the worst kind of abuse and yet Trevorrow shows simply no interest in going beyond the surface. We know this girl is depressed because of the way her hair covers her eye. Heaven forbid that the character have any sense of depth or even more than five lines of dialogue. There’s just a horrific negligence rooted in incompetent exploitation that sees the sexual abuse of a young woman as plot catalyst and nothing more.

The fact is that I’m really worried about Episode IX after sitting through The Book of Henry. Typically a movie this bad might garner some kind of cult audience but the lacking personality and bland presentation ensures that there’s simply nothing to relish in. The characters are obnoxious. The story is ludicrous. The themes muddled and exploitative. There’s simply no reason to open up The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry
  • Overall Score
1

Summary

An equally implausible and inept piece of storytelling, The Book of Henry is a bland and boring misfire from director Colin Trevorrow that can’t even be enjoyed ironically.

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