Indie filmmakers turned into blockbuster directors is the shtick these days, and Colin Trevorrow is one of those people. He did the beloved Safety Not Guaranteed which I think is hideously overrated but in fairness, it’s mainly the script and direction that I don’t care for. He also directed the commercial success Jurassic World, which was a bad movie. And now he’s working on Star Wars Episode IX. To me, his track record isn’t exactly that good, but I’ll give anyone the benefit of the doubt unless they don’t care about their audience.
The Book of Henry is directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz, mainly known for novels and comic book writing. And the TV show V which quickly disappeared up its own rear end. In this movie though, the movie doesn’t completely do that, although almost. The movie stars Jaeden Lieberher as the titular Henry, a legitimate genius eleven year old kid. Henry lives with his frazzled mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) and the first chunk of the movie is introducing the family dynamic.
There’s a kind of charm to this part, although then the movie begins to introduce a weird plot that ultimately makes it flounder. Henry is concerned about the girl next door, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), whom he suspects is being abused by her stepfather and only living guardian, local police commissioner Glenn (Dean Norris). This part gets a bit tonally off from the sort of twee family dramedy business, as Henry goes off and plots a way to rescue Christina that he writes down in a book.
Then the movie turns into a shockingly depressing, and kinda tone deaf tragedy for a little while, and the lone good part is the continued charming rapport between the supremely intelligent Henry and his struggling mother, along with the younger brother who knows he’s not supernaturally smart. At this point there’s a bit of a side character introduced with David (Lee Pace), but explaining the specifics is probably too much of a spoiler.
The final segment is when Susan discovers the “book of Henry” and decides to attempt the rescue plan herself, which turns the movie into a heist-ish tone. So at this point we’ve had hipstery family comedy, child abuse Lifetime movie drama, super sad tragedy, mild romance, and a rescue thriller. The movie is all over the place.
Much of the positives come from the excellent work by Jaeden Lieberher, although it’s hard to know if anyone could pull off the nutball character he’s given. Some of these storylines and tones work better than others, and some are so jarring that make it seem like an entirely different movie. I’ve noticed that the movie is getting a lot of bad reviews, but although I admit I too was unmoved by the contrived tragedy, I found some of the movie to be legitimately charming.
As I think more on it, this is my favorite Colin Trevorrow movie, although that’s not that high a bar. I don’t know that it means anything at all for his Star Wars movie, which I am sure will be tightly controlled. I was a lot more annoyed at Jurassic World than this harmless bit of a time waster. It’s fine, really.
The Book of Henry has a running time of 1 hour 45 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language.