The Book of Henry (2017)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: The Book of Henry deserves a few points for ambition, but its tonal juggling act -- and a deeply maudlin twist -- may leave viewers gaping in disbelief rather than choking back tears.

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Movie Info

Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Her younger son Peter (Jacob Tremblay) is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan's older son Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother - and, through investments, of the family as a whole - Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry's kind classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler), has a dangerous secret - and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it.

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Cast

Naomi Watts
as Susan Carpenter
Jaeden Lieberher
as Henry Carpenter
Jacob Tremblay
as Peter Carpenter
Lee Pace
as David
Maddie Ziegler
as Christina
Dean Norris
as Glenn Sickleman
Marjan Neshat
as Nurse Kathy
Tonya Pinkins
as Principal Wilder
Geraldine Hughes
as Mrs. Evans
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Critic Reviews for The Book of Henry

All Critics (128) | Top Critics (25)

This shift in genre is an ambitious gamble, and I don't think it plays out successfully.

Jun 22, 2017 | Full Review…

I was swept up in the emotional realism of it all with nothing but grounded performances from the whole cast.

Jun 18, 2017 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
Observer
Top Critic

However hard the talented cast may try, those aren't people up on the screen; they're candles, balloons, and marbles.

Jun 16, 2017 | Rating: 0/5 | Full Review…

The whole thing is boring and phony, with just a couple of lines of dialogue that feel sharp.

Jun 16, 2017 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Even in this mess of conflicting ideas, you still get a sense of the childlike wonder that drives Treverrow to tell stories. It's a rare gift, and something to help him survive calamitous setbacks like this one.

Jun 16, 2017 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

Every book needs an editor.

Jun 16, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Book of Henry

½

Henry is a child savant of the highest degree played by Jaeden Lieberher. He is a precocious genius, good at literally everything, and a great parent to both his brother (Jacob Tremblay) and his alcoholic mother (Naomi Watts). From the start, one is misled into thinking this might be a quirky black comedy when Sarah Silverman shows up. One is never sure if her presence is ironic, but considering that the movie swerves violently into child sexual abuse, childhood terminal illness, and cop killing, it's safe to say that no one involved with the film was sure what tone they were going for. I can't leave out that Silverman romantically smooches Henry (an 11 year old) on his death bed or that Naomi Watts exhausts a veritable checklist of everything a parent should not do. Early on there's a scene where the main characters set up a makeshift tableau just to flip off the audience, and I can't help but feel it was director Colin Trevorrow working out some misplaced aggression for stepping down (read: getting fired) from directing Star Wars Episode IX. In a bold (and some would call it stupid) twist, Henry dies from a brain tumor halfway through the movie, and his dying wish is for his mother and brother to conspire to kill the police commissioner - a contingency plan that he has left elaborate, prescient instructions with which to accomplish. You would think once the tone has taken a turn for the dark they would commit to it, but instead there are spots of tone-deaf humor, hammy acting, and Lifetime Network-tier cloying riddling this strange and silly Mouse Trap game of a drama. The Book of Henry is one of those few films that pop up every year or so that is technically competent yet is so bafflingly misguided it makes you call into question the intentions and sanity of the people working on it. Is it a breakdown in communication between the director and the actors? Is the screenwriter subtly screwing with the script on a day to day basis? And why did no one mention to Naomi Watts that it's improper form to hold her video game controller at eye-level while playing? She's completely overextending her thumbs and could give herself carpal tunnel. Regardless, The Book of Henry is a movie so bad that I had to watch it twice to believe it's real, but I would not recommend that you do the same.

K Nife Churchkey
K Nife Churchkey

Super Reviewer

An easy contender for the worst picture of the year, The Book of Henry is a baffling stew of nonsense mixed together with enough bizarre tonal shifts, bad dialogue, and disinterested actors to drown a Star Wars prequel. Its story concerns a young prodigy and his family. Henry has "movie genius syndrome" and is SOOO intelligent he basically finances the household by playing the stock market. His mother, played by Naomi Watts, is a mostly irresponsible and borderline lazy womanchild who prefers to play Gears of War and drink with her best friend, Sarah Silverman. Therefore, Henry raises his younger brother and grows up with his mother. Oh, and he builds elaborates Rube Goldberg machines because that equates "mad genius" in movie language. Then, randomly halfway through the movie, Henry's case of "movie genius syndrome" produces a tumor that puts him in a hospital for two weeks and fucking kills him. (But not before the eleven-year-old gets to make out with Sarah Silverman. So...umm...yea?) With our protagonist now dead, Naomi Watts discovers a message left behind by Henry. It turns out that that the chief of police next door (Dean Norris) is molesting his step daughter and our precocious child hero had uncovered the truth and was devising a plan all along. He encourages his mother to fucking assassinate this public official using money and instructions he has left behind. Naomi Watts AGREES to this idiotic plan and does the business of preparing for the deed by purchasing a high-powered sniper rifle and practicing in the backyard, shooting literally 40 feet away from her intended victim. And this is all to the backdrop of an impending grade school talent show because this is a fuckin family movie, goddamn it. Now why the hell did I just tell you the "plot" of this movie? Because it's so goddamn bizarre that you would not believe how utterly retarded The Book of Henry was, if I didn't tell you this bullshit that someone actually got paid to write. Colin Trevorrow was successful in making both cute indy comedy Safety Not Guaranteed and bloated mega-blockbuster Jurassic World work wonders with extremely archetypal characters. But he is so disinterested here that every shot looks flat, boring, and lifeless. It is perhaps the worst looking movie I have seen in a couple of years. Naomi Watts deserves credit for making the maudlin moments of the film work, especially regarding Henry's death and the finale, but she's the only one. Every other character is irritating, strange, and inhuman. Like fucking aliens wanted to make a small family drama with a bit of a twist but instead shoved together material from three different genres and gave us a howler for the ages. The Book of Henry was a disaster and a bomb to be sure, but it will remain great fodder for B-movie showings and film school discussions on how NOT TO MAKE A MOVIE.

Joshua Sheetz
Joshua Sheetz

Super Reviewer

The Book of Henry is an innovative drama that both brings smiles and pulls on your heart strings. At first I thought this was going to be a child friendly family film, then the second act arrives and it just hits you. This is incredibly smart! I mean sure, Henry himself is a child genius but the film's inner dynamics is very refreshing to watch. How Henry, a child, is the adult and more respectable role in the family and his mother is playing video games and not worrying about financial documents. This role reversal is well explored, so I was pretty happy. The problem is I can't really say too much about the last two acts (way too many spoilers), but the film changes and transforms from a family film to a more mature adult viewing. When I say mature, I mean it is ridiculously heavy...it just hits you and I wasn't prepared for it. Then the film changes again and starts to become a thriller, whilst still tackling mature themes such as child abuse. Whilst these are all perfectly acceptable, the sudden changes were jarring and the tonal inconsistencies did disrupt the narrative. It's a shame because the intent for innovation and originality was there, but it just didn't quite hit the mark. Colin Trevorrow made a suitable transition from blockbuster (Jurassic World) to a smaller drama, his camera shots were clean although nothing outstanding. The acting though, oh yes. I have a little place in my heart for Naomi Watts and she was really good as the mother who's character transforms dramatically. This showcases her acting chops and solidifies her as an exquisite actress. Jaedan Lieberher plays Henry, he executes his lines with precision and has that sarcastic wit that a self-proclaimed genius would have. I enjoyed his performance. Jacob Tremblay once again proves he is Hollywood's best child actor right now, he really is the heart of the film. So the story and acting was great, just the sudden changes in genre prevented this from being a powerful drama. It tried to be everything instead of focussing on one genre.

Luke Andrews
Luke Andrews

Super Reviewer

½

Not enough filmmakers take risks nowadays, and to be quite honest, I found myself in awe at the originality that The Book of Henry delivered. That being said, this film isn't for everyone, and I mean that very strongly. Every years there's usually a film that will come along, being completely misunderstood and I believe this film is 2017's mixed bag that everyone will reflect back on. Due to its gutsy nature, I can't see it winning many awards. Director Colin Trevorrow has chosen a screenplay that he believes will move audience in ways that they haven't been moved before. Tat will definitely be the case with some, but the fact that this film feels like three different movies rather than three complete acts will definitely be jarring to the average moviegoer. Here is why I believe The Book of Henry can be loved if you have the right mindset going in. This is a very hard film to explain without giving away the plot twists, so I will keep this brief. The first act of this film follows an extremely smart 11-year-old boy in Henry, who helps take care of his mother and younger brother. Too smart for his own good, he clearly has an insanely bright future ahead of him. With the addition of an odd neighbour, there are a few questions that need answering throughout the film. Once the first act concludes, this film very quickly turns into another film entirely, shifting its tone. All I have to warn you about is the fact that you should be ready for anything. This film takes large leaps in very short amounts of time. By the third act you will almost feel like you are watching a completely different movie, but that worked for me for the most part. Throughout each act transition, this film asks you to believe in it, so it was imperative that the performances could sell the tonal shifts. When it comes to child actors, performances always teeter on the scale of believability in my opinion. It's very rare that a child's performances blows me away. Say for E.T., Room, and even Super 8, very few others have impressed me in that regard. Sure, there are others out there, but most kids just don't have the experience that the majority of adult actors have. The reason I mentioned the film Room, is because Jacob Tremblay is a very prominent part of this film as well and he once again shows his range. Although there are a few questionable story choices throughout this film, his performance brought me to tears on multiple occasions. Mark my words, he will one day be remembered as one of the greatest child actors of all time. With the addition of the terrific performances by Jaeden Lieberher and Naomi Watts, I was completely engaged in these characters, which I feel is all thanks to director Colin Trevorrow. After directing Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow definitely made a name for himself in terms of being able to handle kids on-screen. His work here seems to be even more devoted to the project, as not a single performer feels out of place or not delivering their all. He is definitely an actor/actresses director and it shows here tenfold. I can't wait to see more from him in the future, as he has definitely proven himself over the past few years. His choices throughout this film are ballsy ones and I can only commend him on those aspects. I found myself entranced in certain scenes and I honestly couldn't picture another director at the helm for this project. In the end, The Book of Henry is a film that breaks almost every rule in the screenplay writing handbook, it's extremely unconventional, it takes quite a few turns into dark territory, and the end result is a very solid film if you are willing to adapt to certain films. There were many time throughout this film that had me scratching my head or in awe at how gutsy the film was becoming, but then I reflected on it as a whole and realized that it was all done with class and care. The surprises throughout this film, whether happy or sad, were well-worth the price of admission, because it's very different from the rest of the films that hit theatres lately. There isn't any way this will be an award-winning film, but it does what it sets out to do flawlessly. If you are a person who criticizes a film for being different, than your entire experience with this film will be flawed. I will admit this film is far from perfect and it does become a little sloppy, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of The Book of Henry. For these reasons, I would like to recommend this film to most audiences, as long as they go in with a very open mind.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

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