The Book of Henry
If a precocious 11-year-old stiffly explaining existentialism to a classroom full of snot-nosed and absent-minded children doesn’t make you either guffaw or weep from the ovaries then this may not be the film for you. The Book of Henry is bound to appeal to some. Namely, someone incredibly sentimental and in possession of a very short attention span may earnestly enjoy this movie.
This drama-comedy-thriller-tearjerker can’t decide what it is or where it is going. Much like a child, it runs full speed in one direction, forgets why, turns, and gallops towards the next thing that catches its eye.
For fans of director Colin Trevorrow’s previous work – most notably Jurassic World – and those looking forward to his treatment of Star Wars : Episode IX, this will no doubt be a disappointment.
The film follows Henry and Peter, two young sons to a single mother, Susan, played by Naomi Watts. Henry is a genius. He is a philosopher, an engineer, a writer – a real “Renaissance boy”. Nothing goes unnoticed by Henry, including the abuse he suspects is taking place in the house next door, perpetrated by the chief of police towards his stepdaughter.
This Hitchcockian plot may sound tantalising, and it almost is, but it is competing with so many sub-plots that it is impossible to create any suspense. This is a flaw in any feature; in one that deals with heavy themes including death and child abuse, however, it is fatal.
Naomi Watts gives a brilliant performance as Susan but she struggles to sew together all of the half-finished and unrealised arcs for her character. The result is unfortunate: a disjointed portrayal from a very capable actress.
Many pictures about childhood use the kid’s perspective effectively. The Book of Henry hints that it might follow the example of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom or Richard Linklater’s Boyhood but it doesn’t. Where these auteurs use the child’s perspective to devastating and brilliant effect, Trevorrow only trivialises and condescends. The film lacks delicacy – in its humour, tragedy and supposed wisdom.
A tighter focus would have helped this movie – and its talented cast – reach its full potential. Despite some moments of promise, this is a regrettable example of a wasted opportunity.
The Book of Henry is released nationwide on 23rd June 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Book of Henry here: