What the hell is this movie?! The advertising for this flick is beyond misleading. Oh, as of this moment while I’m writing, I haven’t seen the movie, but… seriously! The trailer starts off like a gender-swap GIFTED (2017). The kid is a genius who handles the taxes of the house, his mom works as a server and plays video games, and… pretty sure the younger brother is just cute pandering. The boy meets a girl he likes at school and then things go dark. Like… schoolgirl’s step-father may be abusive, dark. Like… end the trailer with the mom holding a sniper rifle, dark.
And then one of the film’s poster looks like this!
There’s sniper rifles in this movie, kids! Be confused! Be very confused! But all that being said, I’m excited for this movie. It looks like it could be so insane that it’s entertaining.
Well, here’s a look at the cast. Starring, we have Jaeden Lieberher (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL ), Naomi Watts (ALLEGIANT ), Jacob Tremblay (ROOM , and the upcoming THE PREDATOR ), and Maddie Ziegler (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming animated French-Canadian film LEAP! ). In support, we have Sarah Silverman (POPSTAR , and upcoming films BATTLE OF THE SEXES  and Disney’s animated RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 ), Dean Norris (FIST FIGHT , SECRET IN THEIR EYES , and the upcoming DEATH WISH ), and Lee Pace (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ).
Now for the crew. Directing is Colin Trevorrow, known for JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and the upcoming STAR WARS EPISODE IX (2019). Penning the screenplay is Gregg Hurwitz, known for 7 episodes of TV show V. Composing the score is the awesome Michael Giacchino, known for ROGUE ONE (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011), and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is John Schwartzman, known for FIFTY SHADES DARKER (2017), and upcoming films FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018) and STAR WARS EPISODE IX.
Overall, yeah, kind of excited, but more curious to see just how weirdly bad this movie gets. I’m just hoping for some entertainment, not expecting a good story.
This is my honest opinion of: THE BOOK OF HENRY
Eleven-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is smart. Gifted. He lives with his loving single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and his younger admiring brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry also has a crush on his neighor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), whom he starts to believe is being abused by her police chief commissioner step-father Glenn (Dean Norris). However, his efforts to trying to save her are constantly thwarted due to Glenn’s status and his age. But as he starts to put an elaborate plan together to save Christina, things go horribly wrong for Henry.
Oh man, don’t hate me, y’all, but… I kinda like this movie. I hesitate to say it’s good, but I really like a lot that I saw. Yes yes, the tone is inconsistent as hell, but I barely care.
So yeah, the movie starts off about as… well it actually starts off pretty obnoxious. You have an intellectually gifted kid who’s only with his peers because he thinks it would help him develop more appropriately, yet when he’s supposed to talk to the class about what he wants his legacy to be and the other kids are doing what the assignment calls for, he gets so annoyingly dramatic and is all like, “I don’t put stock in legacy. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we surround ourselves with. Our friends and family.” I winced in pain from that. But honestly, my problems with the movie end there.
From this point on, it’s a long series of character and relationship development that I honestly got really hooked by. Henry likes to make contraptions. He’s a somber kid, loves his mother and brother, fiercely loyal to them, and even has a cute battle-of-attitudes with Susan’s best friend and co-worker Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Susan is a single mom, but all the household responsibilities are taken over by Henry. He pays the bills, handles bonds, banking, all that stuff while she comfortably sits around playing video games. And for the record, Naomi Watts playing GEARS OF WAR (2006) is the greatest cinematic gift to the world since a bearded, witch-hunting, flaming-sword wielding Vin Diesel. She’s deeply loving toward her two sons and has a cute relationship with Christina, though I could have done without their complicated hand-shake. Peter is… well, okay, he’s the cute-pandering kid who’s there to be adorable, but even he has some character traits. He wants to be an inventor like Henry, even though this doesn’t really amount to anything later on in the movie, and loves spending time with Henry. I love these characters and their relationship toward one another. It’s cute and it’s engaging. I loved it.
And speaking of Watts, I thought she was SO GOOD in this movie! There’s not one moment where I didn’t believe her acting. Every scene, from the happy mother, to the emotional, to the grieving, to the bad-ass, I bought everything. Sure, there’s a lot of shit that was way too convenient, like Henry overhearing an illegal weapons transaction in a gun store where a shady man drops the name of a shady character and uses that later on in the story, but whatever, the pay off was fun, making the ending feel even more victorious and Watts knocks it out of the park for me. I laughed and cried with, and cheered for her as a woman who has to learn how to learn to find confidence in herself and learn to do things on her own. It’s a nice character arch. Of course, now that I’m typing this out, everything that I’m talking about is probably the very reason why this movie is getting such low ratings and negative reviews. What kind of mother lets her eleven-year-old son do all the important housework and she literally does nothing but drink and play video games? Well, if Susan was a more despicable character who forced Henry to do that work so she could be a lazy good-for-nothing and wasn’t a loving mother, this would be a much bigger problem for me. But since it’s Henry that put that responsibility on himself and she’s just going along with it, I can’t say that I agree with them if that’s where the criticism comes from. I would understand, but I don’t agree.
Some minor annoyances in the movie before I head into spoiler territory. As much as I enjoy Silverstone as an actress, and for all intents and purposes, she’s not bad in this, Sheila is a little too 80’s diner cliché for me. She has that nasal-y speech pattern that makes her sound like Fran Drescher, and because she’s youngish, attractive, and bustier, her boobs are out in the open, it’s a little too on the nose for my taste. Thankfully, I do enjoy the playful banter she has with Henry and how she does show that she cares about him later on, lending itself to a pretty tender and heartwarming scene… er… that is if you can ignore the VERY OBVIOUS BAD TOUCH moment. What the hell, Silverman?! You didn’t argue that shit?! Actually, there seems to be quite a few of those in this movie with adults being unnecessarily close to children, but I guess this isn’t a big deal since some of those moments are between a mother and her young children, but still… half an arm distance away, y’all.
It’s pretty hard to talk about the meat of the story without getting into spoiler territory, so that’s what the remainder of this review will be.
Wisely hidden from the trailers, Henry dies early on in the movie. This sort of comes out of nowhere and the tone shifts tremendously. The first quarter or third of the movie is all happy-peppy family togetherness, with hints of harsh drama, like why someone should or shouldn’t interfere in public abuse and Henry’s desperation to try and save Christina from Glenn (Dean Norris). But then suddenly, we get an eleven-year-old having a seizure, then immediately told that he has a tumor that’s going to kill him. And I was remarking on the sniper rifle thing and the happy family picture above. Yeah, we haven’t gotten to that point yet, and we’re already treated to a dead child. If this is also a contributing factor to the negativity toward the film, I get that too. It’s almost fairy-tale too happy at first and then the movie throws this at the audience. It would bother me more if the acting wasn’t so damn powerful.
Yeah, the acting in these few scenes is absolutely heartbreaking. When Henry deduces that he’s going to die, he’s absolutely paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. The way he requests to be left alone, you can’t help but get invested in the emotions, especially as he later tries to set everyone up after he passes. I know I’ve rambled about Watts a lot already, but I absolutely love her in this movie and a good performance should really be commented on when it warrants. You not only see that shock and uncertainty of how she’s possibly going to take care of herself and Peter, but the utter inner destruction of knowing that she’s saying a slow good-bye to him. Both Lieberher and Watts run through gauntlets of emotions and they’re absolutely fantastic together.
And it’s here where that Silverman “bad touch” moment happens. They have a heart to heart and admit that they really do like each other and before she leaves, she plants a kiss on his lips. Yeah… it’s a little too ewie for me. Hell, I think Henry had the same reaction as I did because that kid’s eyes widen. I’m with you, kid. Ew.
So when Henry does die, he leaves behind a notebook that goes through every scenario he went through as he tried to call child protective services to save Christina, but utterly failed, going through why any official channels won’t work. And by the way, I’m declaring this a movie line, but when Peter reads Henry’s book, he runs down and hilariously shouts, “Mom! I think Henry wants us to kill Glenn!” Oh my god, I’m still laughing about that. God, I love Tremblay. Even when he’s given thin roles, he knows how to make them entertaining as hell.
Not all of the writing is good post-death scene. In fact, a couple of scenes are downright awkward. Susan is told to go home to grieve, but Sheila races after her and have a really weird and senseless conversation. It was such bizarre writing that I don’t actually remember what she was babbling about. Something about her car, or some shit. There’s also a somewhat inappropriate comedy moment when Peter’s at school with a lunch box full of unhealthy food, looking at it like he’s bored, and then says, “Anyone wanna trade from some fruit?” And then a crap ton of hands lay down fruit as they take his treats. Funny, but… this is barely ten minutes after Henry’s death scene. We’re still wrestling with the emotions of that. The comedy is really out of place here.
But these gripes don’t anchor the movie down too bad as it starts picking up again when Susan starts following Henry’s instructions, nabs herself a flawless plan to literally murder Glenn and get away with it. It’s so silly to see her taking directions from a recording, especially when Henry’s voice is commenting on things that he couldn’t possibly know would happen. But yet again, this would be a bigger problem if Watts wasn’t so damn hilarious as she discovers that she’s a pretty decent shot with a sniper rifle. Not that she ever utilizes it when she’s got Glenn in her sights, which… didn’t make much sense.
Yeah, after she drops off Christina and Peter at their school’s talent show, she’s off to try and kill Glenn. She’s out deep in the woods and you know what she does to lure him out? She makes whistling sounds through a walkie-talkie to which he follows the whistling to the designated place where she’s going to kill him. I say again, a sound that is coming from a walkie-talkie taped to a tree at least a quarter mile away in a forest… Glenn heard that whistling from within his enclosed house. It’s about as stupid and senseless as it sounds. In fact, this whole scene is pretty out there. Her arm knocks over a doohickey which does this thingy- basically, it makes a bunch of noise that she’s supposed to ignore as she snipes a child-abuser and said child abuser doesn’t hear that racket when he’s not that far away. Eventually, all that shizz opens up a collage of family photos that somehow means that Susan can’t pull the trigger. But I do like that when Glenn realizes what she’s up to moments later that he can’t fight against her determination and kills himself, eventually resulting in her adopting Christina at the end of the movie. And as anyone can tell you, I’m a sucker for adoption stories… even though that wasn’t the focus of the movie, it worked well enough for me. Sure, there’s probably a million ways around this situation for the guy. He is the police commissioner after all, and Susan’s a waitress at a diner who doesn’t know how to pay her own taxes. I can’t imagine a court case lasting long in her favor. But the fact that they decided, “Screw it, forced happy ending,” saves a little time and I liked this ending as is.
Overall, it’s not a perfect film. Far from it, actually. In fact, I hesitate to say that it’s even good, as most of the things that I love about the movie are likely the reasons why it’s not getting well received by critics and audiences. But I won’t lie. I love the acting. I love the family bonding. I love how even within dramatic shift in tones that shouldn’t work still managed to keep me both interested and emotionally invested. It’s hard for me to know how to recommend this movie and who might enjoy it. My highest recommendation is to watch the trailer and get a sense if this movie is for you. If you think it might be, play it safe and see it at a matinee screening, in case you don’t like it, you at least didn’t waste too much money. If you think it’s not for you, I can hardly argue and I see why it wouldn’t be. But as for me, I’m happy I saw this movie and do see myself revisiting it. Maybe not twice at the theaters, I certainly won’t own it on Blu-Ray, but if it was on Netflix or TV while I was channel surfing, I’d watch this again, definitely. Maybe it’s just a guilty pleasure, but it’s still a pleasure to watch it nonetheless.
My honest rating for THE BOOK OF HENRY: 4/5