Whatever your expectations are for the unclassifiable “The Book of Henry,” I guarantee they won’t be fully realized. I’ve watched a lot of strange movies over my lifetime but I’m not really sure what I want to say about this one because it’s so bizarre. It’s without a doubt a huge misfire, but it’s also like a train wreck that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t pry your eyes away.
The talented Colin Trevorrow directs this story of child prodigy Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), his needy and childlike single mother Susan (Naomi Watts), his little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay), and troubled neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler). When Henry starts to believe that Christina is being abused by her stepfather (Dean Norris), he comes up with a rescue plan and begins documenting the instructions in a red notebook. To explain much more would be giving away the biggest surprise elements of the outlandish plot.
The movie has a forced sentimentality that lends no favors to its implausible and contrived story. It’s heavy-handed on all levels and is strangely both utterly compelling and completely forgettable. It’s sort of a movie for kids that way to dark for children but filled with too many plot holes for rational adults. I cannot tell you who the audience is for this. It’s a family tragi-drama that morphs into an oddly familiar mystery and suspense thriller, a tale of vigilante justice, terminal illness, child abuse, brotherly love, and murder.
To top if off, Henry isn’t likeable in the least. He’s a smug little jerk and the worst kind of know-it-all. (If you want to see a good movie about a precocious child prodigy, check out the fabulous “Gifted“). Everything in the movie is spelled out (no, it’s literally spelled out in Henry’s notebook) and the emotional manipulation reaches new heights. It’s a story that centers around kids but by the end it becomes quite condescending to the under 12 set — just one of the film’s many frustrating contradictions.
If the abrupt genre shifts aren’t enough to make you scream, then the tepid performances certainly will. The superstar of this movie is Tremblay, riding high off his role in “Room.” Watts and Norris are simply going through the motions, and Lieberher is astonishingly one-note when he needs to be playing a symphony.
I applaud Trevorrow for taking such a risk with this project, but this one tries and spectacularly fails.