THE BOOK OF HENRY turns the page from coming of age to edgy thriller
The Book of Henry is one of those movies that is extremely difficult to review because of the desire to surprise its audience. As a movie told in three arcs, the trailer effectively alludes to two of those arcs, but it is the one that is not highlighted that throws the strongest punch.
The story of a boy, his brother, his mom, and the girl next door, Jaeden Lieberher takes on the title role of Henry, an 11-year old genius who is far smarter than any peer or adult. A boy who instead of playing with other kids, spends time in a totally awesome treehouse building complex Rube Goldberg machines. A boy who takes care of his waitress mother, Susan, (Naomi Watts) who despite having a deep love for her kids doesn’t know how to be a mother and spends time drinking with her co-worker and playing shoot-em-up video games. And a boy with a heart of gold who will do anything to protect his brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) and only wants to help others around him.
Despite his high intelligence, like most genius children, Henry struggles to interact effectively with others, including his next door neighbor and crush, Christina (Maddie Ziegler). Whereas Henry and Peter grow up without a father, Christina is growing up with her stepfather (Dean Norris), the police commissioner, and a man that clearly doesn’t exude warmth towards his stepdaughter nor Henry and his family.
Everything changes one night when Henry awakens to see the unspeakable outside of his window while staring into Christina’s room. Later, Susan too sees the unspeakable and it is what is not seen that is most unnerving. Whatever it is that Henry sees, it leads him to the realization that he needs to save Christina. He sees it as his mission and wonders out loud who is supposed to look after those who can’t look after themselves. Henry’s mission makes up the second and the third arc and it is these two arcs that must be seen as including any information here would spoil many surprises (both good and ludicrous).
The Book of Henry shines through it’s powerful performances with Lieberher, Ziegler, and Tremblay stealing scenes and appearing destined to be the next generation of strong actors. Lieberher is extremely believable as a boy wonder with a vivid imagination who simply wants those around him to be happy and successful. Ziegler’s ability to say so much without saying anything through her big blue eyes forces you to feel the pain that she keeps inside. And Tremblay at only nine when he filmed Henry shows that his performance in Room was no fluke and proves why he landed the lead role in the anticipated upcoming movie adaptation of the bestselling book Wonder. Even Watts is at the top of her game giving a powerfully emotional performance after a long stretch of forgettable roles. The cast is rounded out by a solid supporting cast made up of Sarah Silverman, as a hilarious yet lovable trashy drunk and waitress (including push-up bra and tattoos) who shares amazing chemistry with Lieberher, Lee Pace who showcases powerful chemistry with Tremblay, and Dean Norris convincingly playing Christina’s stepdad.
At its best during the first and second arc, if you can suspend reality, the third act still brings the film to a satisfying close but makes you wonder what could have been had the writers not taken a few too many leaps of faith (as the first screenplay was written in 1998, it is safe to say they had time to figure it out). After the lights come up, you will have gone on a rollercoaster of emotions, from the high of highs to the low of lows and perhaps back again. The Book of Henry won’t satisfy everyone, but for me, the strong performances and first two arcs provided enough entertainment to recommend this film.