The Book Of Henry

500 Days Of Film Reviews Drama, The Book Of Henry, Starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay

Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single mother, Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts), relies on Henry. He provides her with emotional and financial support, he protects her eight year old son, Peter (Jacob Tremblay), and he helps her make the big decisions in life.

 

However, Henry is Susan’s son and is just 12 years old.

 

Intellectually gifted, Henry possesses remarkable insight and phenomenal creativity. Sensitive and observant, he comes to understand the horrific plight of his 12 year old neighbour and classmate, Christina (Maddie Ziegler).

 

In a reversal of roles, Henry asks Susan to help him - drawing up a dangerous and complex plan in a desperate attempt to save his friend.

Is It Any Good?

The Book Of Henry is a film best seen with as little prior knowledge as possible. As a result, I will steer clear of any potential spoilers in this review. However, in the wake of the film’s release, it has been hard to avoid the slew of not just negative but utterly (almost gleefully) vitriolic reviews. 

 

Having seen Colin Trevorrow’s movie, I am at a loss to explain this critical mauling. The Book Of Henry is not a great film and has many flaws but it is certainly not the worst film of the year or, indeed, the worst film I have seen this week.

 

It is not that I don’t understand where the one star reviews are coming from. I agree that the tonal shifts are jarring and, at times, extremely misguided. I accept that there is a large amount of emotional manipulation and that the film's last act is, well, completely bonkers.

 

However, The Book Of Henry is far from being wholly without merit. The three central performances are engaging and I cared about them. Jaeden Lieberher has a particularly tricky role. The film asks him to deliver lines (and build tree houses) that are pretty eyeball rolling. Henry may prefer to be called precocious rather than pretentious but it is a close call. Thankfully, Lieberher’s performance saves the day.

 

Meanwhile, Trevorrow’s movie (based on a screenplay by Gregg Hurwitz) also explores interesting themes of grief, societal apathy and parental responsibility (or the absence thereof).

 

Crucially, I was never bored or (bar a distinct sense of unease at a certain plot revelation) offended. Instead, I was gripped, moved and surprised by The Book Of Henry. It’s not perfect and it won’t work for everyone, but this film did not deserve such a ferocious critical response.

 

 

I can only surmise that The Book Of Henry's critical skewering has more to do with Trevorrow’s profile than the film itself. The director has gone from quirky indie, Safety Not Guaranteed (which I love), to Jurassic World and (the unenviable pressure) of directing Star Wars Episode 9. As a result, his work is undergoing some pretty intense scrutiny.

 

Once the dust has settled, it is unlikely that The Book Of Henry will be viewed as a cinematic monstrosity - more a flawed movie that dared to experiment with narrative and tone.

 

And I believe that we should welcome writers and directors who are willing to experiment in this way. Their movies may not always work but I would hate to live in a world where every film played it safe.

 

Random Observations

Have you seen The Book Of Henry? 

 

What did you think of Colin Trevorrow’s film? Does it deserve all the bad press? Let me know in the comments section below or let's talk over on Twitter or Facebook.

 

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