Colin Trevorrow’s ‘The Book of Henry’ is a movie that is not quite sure of what path it wants to take. Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay is a map so poorly structured that, from the 10-minute mark, the film feels lost. ‘The Book of Henry’s destination comes in the form of a thriller in the style of the great Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’, with a little bit of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’, and Danny DeVito’s ‘Throw Momma From the Train’ to be a welcoming and inventive experience. Yet 15 minutes along the road, it takes what Bugs Bunny calls “A wrong turn at Albuquerque” to the realms of family drama. I blame the fact that this screenplay is – according to Trevorrow – 20 years old, so the script must have worn off with time. Why did Trevorrow decide to take on this mission to direct ‘The Book of Henry’ instead of give up when he saw the script? I’m not sure, but I guess he wanted to do something while waiting for ‘Star Wars Episode IX’ to come in 2019.
‘The Book of Henry’s intentions are unknown. It tries to be a thrilling adventure where Naomi Watts plays the hero in order to fulfill her son Henry’s (Jaeden Lieberher) wish to save his classmate/next-door neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler, who you may recognize as an interpretive dancer in pop singer Sia’s music videos) from her Police commissioner father (Dean Norris), who is suspected of child abuse, while Watts’ Susan is taking advice from her son’s cassette player (leading to unrealistic back-and-forth). While smack dab in the middle is a tearjerker that feels it takes up the majority of the film in order for you to sympathize with the character of Henry and his family more, when you couldn’t really care less. Even Watts can be unlikable at times.
What it lacks in story construction, ‘The Book of Henry’ somewhat gains in performances, but even they feel rushed and ridiculous. In recent years, Watts has lost her charm and appeal; sticking to motherly figure roles as a way to get her paycheck. Here, she has to wear sniper attire near the last half, which makes her look more of an action video-game character, like Samus Aran in ‘Metroid’. Ziegler plays Christina with a shy demeanor that works, yet in the end, her casting proves to be an excuse for an interpretive dance number inter-cut with the film’s climax. Sarah Silverman joins the cast as Susan’s coworker/best friend who tries to be the comic relief, yet left a bad taste in my mouth as an unlikable alcoholic who gives Henry hassle (Calling him “Hank”). The one performance that stands out the most is Jacob Tremblay’s performance as Henry’s little brother, Peter. Ever since his performance in ‘Room’, Tremblay has proven that children can act. He has a likability to his characters even when the movie he is in feels dry and dull.
Trevorrow thought he could get away from the disappointment that was ‘Jurassic World’ by making what seemed to be a promising film. Sadly, ‘The Book of Henry’ feels like a promise broken. Watching ‘The Book of Henry’ is not a major crime, and should be let go as one of the biggest misdemeanors in cinematic history. Let’s wait to see what Trevorrow does with ‘Episode IX’ before he faces crimes against Hollywood.