The director of this movie, Colin Trevorrow, is the previous director of Jurassic World, and future director of Star Wars Episode IX (provided he doesn’t pull too hard on Disney’s leash). I didn’t know this when I went into the theater, and I didn’t really need to; I wanted to go to it because it had that quaint indie feeling to it.
And honestly, I really liked the story of this movie. It’s a unique premise with a unique-ish delivery…
…. it’s a shame that the premise had to be tied down to such an abysmal script and such terrible direction.
But what really drags this movie down is not necessarily the performances; it’s the script. The dialogue is so infuriatingly on-the-nose with its exposition that they might as well have the characters discuss their own roles in the movie verbatim.
“I’m Henry and I’m a smart kid, so smart, in fact, that I’m a freak.”
“I’m Henry’s mom played by Naomi Watts, and boy oh boy am I irresponsible.”
“I’m Henry’s brother and I get bullied, and I have a complex because of it.”
“I’m Henry’s female next door neighbor, and I sure do like Henry.”
Seriously, there were moments in the movie where the dialogue is so dumbed down that I felt myself getting stupider watching it unfold. This is easily the most unsubtle script I’ve seen all year, and I just got through Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, AND The Mummy. And whenever the script wasn’t excruciatingly obvious about what it was trying to achieve, the cinematography made sure to give a close up of what we were supposed to focus on as an audience member. The entire experience of this film is the exact definition of spoon-feeding.
Now what saves this movie from the chasm of terribleness, aside from the premise, was the performances. When the script wasn’t sabotaging them, Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay are both pretty great in their roles, and they both give very emotionally impactful performances.
In fact, this may be the first film I can think of where the child performances exceeded the quality of the adults’s performances. Naomi Watts was incredibly inconsistent. During the first thirty minutes or so, she was absolutely dreadful, but as the premise began to unfold, her acting got somewhat better. I’d honestly be willing to blame her shortcomings on the shoddy script and poor direction.
Sarah Silverman is in this movie, and I don’t understand why.
I’m not saying this because I dislike her as a person and as an actor (I do, but that’s beside the point); I’m saying this because her character has no impact on the overall plot at all. The only real purpose she serves in the movie is to show how enabling, immoral, and generally unlikable Naomi Watts’s character was. By the time the movie was halfway over, her character is completely done away with except for a few token scenes.
There was this jarring scene between Silverman and Jaeden Lieberher where Lieberher’s character is in the hospital, and Silverman bends over, practically placing her cleavage in Lieberher’s face, and then she kisses him on the lips.
What the hell were they going for with that scene? The only thing I could think of was that they might have been implying that there was some sort of sexual tension she had for the (eleven-year-old) kid… but that scene is never mentioned or brought up again, so I have to conclude that it was directorial incompetence and lack of direction.
There’s so much about this movie that’s cringe-worthy and embarrassing as well. There are multiple times where Watt’s does this stupid secret handshake with this one girl, and it always made me feel embarrassed. There’s a dramatic sequence in the film that was completely compromised because it was interwoven with embarrassing child performances at a talent show that added nothing to the actual film.
And then the end happens, and it takes what was a dark, interesting, and riveting premise, and gives us the cleanest ending possible with the most convenient outcome in the entire world. This is just a minor quip, because the outcome is sort of relevant to Watts’s character arc, but it’s just another example of what this movie could have been if it wasn’t so poorly led.
The Book of Henry is a fine example of a “could have been” movie. There’s a formula here somewhere for a great story, but it is drowned in an ocean of terrible dialogue, obvious cinematography, and dumbed down characters. If terrible dialogue isn’t something that bothers you, then I would recommend checking it out if the previews seem like your kind of thing. Otherwise, the entire experience will feel like finding theatrical treasure by swimming through a cinematic swamp.
3 out of 10