The Book of Henry
Starring Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler
Colin Trevorrow’s follow up to “Jurassic World”, his non tentpole picture before “Star Wars Episode XI” (2019), takes him back to “Safety Not Guaranteed” territory. Despite appearances, “The Book of Henry” still functions within Trevorrow’s fantasy repertoire. The closest thematic resemblance here would be the 1992 flick “Radio Flyer”. The script abandons predictable narrative structure, each act morphs into a different genre. “The Book of Henry” doesn’t go where you expect, in fact, it keeps the audience guessing and surprised. This is one of those rare times I recommend seeing the film without exposing yourself to the trailer prior. Oscar nominee Naomi Watts finally lands a role playing to her strengths. The script allows the Australian actress to run the gamut of emotions, resulting in her best performance since “The Impossible”.
Henry Carpenter (Lieberher) is the man of the house. He looks after his little brother Peter (Tremblay), takes care of all the finances, only allows healthy food in the house and looks after those less fortunate. Henry is only 11-years-old, a genius in his own right. Between homework and filling his mother’s bank account with money he makes playing the stock market, Henry worries about Christina (Ziegler), the girl next door. Henry begins a notebook on how to get rid of Stepfather Sickleman (Norris), after calling the police, child services and reporting the abuse to the principal fail. Henry’s plan is interrupted when he falls ill, and must convince his videogame playing mother Susan (Watts) to finish what he started.
Doesn’t go where you expect, in fact, it keeps the audience guessing and surprised.
Henry says apathy is the worst thing in the world, but that won’t be a problem watching this film as “The Book of Henry” will toy with the audience’s emotions. What begins as a kooky movie with an unusual family, takes a devastating turn in act two. Act three pushes the unexpected film into a thriller, but if you forget this film is a fantasy flick, you might get frustrated at what it’s selling. Love or hate Susan Carpenter, this mother figure breaks the mold. Watts has a long list of unusual material figures, including “St. Vincent” where she also co-starred with Lieberher. Just when you thought “Room” actor Tremblay couldn’t be any more adorable, his 8-year-old (actually 10) messy hair, glasses wearing self is mostly used here for the “aww” moments.
I’m not sure what audience this film is intended for, and perhaps that’s its biggest problem. It’s a little dark for children to see on their own, but it’s a bit too fantastical for adults expecting something straightforward. Regardless of your opinion on the film, it’s admittedly divisive, Watt’s performance is the guiding light. As someone who yearns for stories and material that embrace peculiarity, “The Book of Henry” doesn’t disappoint. “Don’t treat me like a kid,” Peter says to his mother. Trevorrow certainly doesn’t pander to a younger audience with subject matter, aside from having the more violent material happen off screen. There are life lessons sprinkled throughout the script, but it focuses far more on the suspense in the story than morality.
Watts delivers a wildly impressive performance in a film that’s equal parts funny, thrilling and poignant.