LA Film Festival Review: The Book of Henry
There has yet to be a more risky and ambitious film this year than Colin Trevorrow’s The Book Of Henry. A strange, inconsistently toned, and sometimes brilliant story of a gifted young boy named Henry, who is the glue that keeps his family, and mostly everyone he comes into contact with, together.
The Book of Henry follows a single mother named Susan, (Naomi Watts), who works as a waitress at a diner and struggles parenting her two boys. Her younger son, Peter (Jacob Tremblay), is an adorable 8 year old, who loves adventures and spending time with his older brother and mom. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Henry (Jaeden Lieberher). Henry goes through the days like an adult would, helping his mother with finding a new car and finances.
Let me get this out of the way: The Book of Henry is not a film for everyone. I’m serious when I say this; I know a lot of moviegoers and critics alike are going to despise this film. Heck, I even saw a handful of critics walk out halfway through the film. To be honest, I was on the verge of being one of those critics until a certain event took place around 45 minutes into the movie.
Of course, that event is a major spoiler, which likely doesn’t get ruined in the marketing campaign. Yet as soon as this moment happened, the wheels started spinning, and this incoherent mess of a film suddenly became a lot more important and intriguing.
I am at a loss for words because of just how amazing of an actor Jaeden Lieberher is. He’s proven himself in smaller roles (Midnight Special, St. Vincent), but in The Book of Henry, this young powerhouse of an actor really shows off what kind of chops he has. From the opening scene on, Lieberher captivated my attention. We’ve seen plenty of gifted children portrayed in films before, but never quite like this. Henry is without question gifted, but in a way that’s not so overbearing that you can tell the child is acting. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Lieberher’s delivery is awe inspiring, bringing a huge sense of maturity to this wonderfully written character while still remaining a kid at heart. His performance is the aspect of the film that can’t go unnoticed.
Naomi Watts also gives a delightfully charming performance as Susan, the mother who relies so much on Henry, yet loves him so deeply. Watts goes places in this film as an actress that were funny, well-realized, and raw. It’s a performance worth noting that may be the most unique role this actress has played in her many years of working in the industry.
Jacob Tremblay is just as adorable as you remember him in Room. The young actor does get a bit sidelined, not having a whole lot to do until the third act. However, I will say that he has one scene in particular that had me holding back a sea of tears building up in my eyes.
That being said, the film is not without its flaws. As I mentioned above, the first half of this movie is extremely inconsistent. It’s a lighthearted movie about a gifted child one minute; the next it becomes a comedy, and finally, to even it out, it turns into a story about pedophilia (yes, I’m serious). Colin Trevarrow’s direction is admirable, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a smoother cut of the film left on the cutting room floor.
This brings me to my biggest issue with The Book of Henry: the dialogue. Aside from Lieberher and Watts, the other characters were written rather shallowly. Sarah Silverman shows up for a few scenes of unnecessary and rather grotesque comic relief that never once made me even smirk. Dean Norris has a small but pivotal role, but it is never explored, which makes his storyline uninteresting and dull.
After the dust settled, and I got to thinking about the film and the various themes presented throughout it, is when I truly started to appreciate The Book of Henry. This is an ambitious story that’s not afraid to take risks and trusts its audience to go along on this journey with these characters. I am a firm believer that it’s not the places where you end up, but the journey getting there is what matters. That is exactly the type of film this is, and for that, I truly appreciate and admire this small, little film. If you walk out loving it, I’ll understand, same as I will if you walk out hating it. It’s not a film for everyone, but something so risky and vicious should be celebrated, and for that, The Book of Henry is great in my book.
The Book of Henry opens June 16th, 2017.