‘The Book of Henry‘ is a coming-of-age thriller film directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Gregg Hurwitz. It had its premiere at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival and released in theaters by Focus Features.
Henry (Jaeden Martell) is a genius child prodigy living with his single mother Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) in Calvary, New York. His mother relies on him a lot, as he handles their finances and even helps to raise his younger brother by protecting him from bullies. He develops a crush on his neighbor and classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler) where he discovers her stepfather and the town’s police commissioner Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris) is abusing her. Henry tries to report the crime, but school principal Janice Wilder (Tonya Pinkins) and other authorities refuse to continue the investigation. Henry then starts to develop a plan to save Christina, but he dies before he has the chance. Susan stumbles on his notebook and a series of recordings Henry left behind to kill Glenn. At first, Susan does not follow the plan, but after catching a glimpse of the abuse, she decides to go forward with the plan.
This film became one of the quintessential examples of critics versus the audiences. Critics hated the film and exaggerated its faults to make their points. Meanwhile, audiences seemed to find it enduring and giving it positive reviews on movie review websites. In this case, I am more on the side of the audience.
The movie has one or two issues that everyone harped on. It starts as a loving coming-of-age story about a mother who lets her genius child be a parent to her and learning that he is the kid. It then shifts to a revenge thriller as Susan follows her son’s directions in order to save the girl next door. This shift was sudden and did not have a lot of set-up. This made it feel like two different films. In my opinion, it would have been easier to sell if they had not spent so much time trying to develop Henry’s character and focused mainly on the clues he left behind. However, the movie is pretty split between the narratives. Also, Sarah Silverman’s character was completely useless. She could have been cut completely from the plot.
With those issues in mind, I have to say, I thought it was enduring. Both narratives play at your heart-strings and, despite the circumstances, the story of the mother following her son’s final wish to its fruition was kind of sweet. In a sense, it was as much a coming of age story for the mother as well as for Henry. I found that incredibly enduring and Colin Trevorrow told it in an excellent way. The side message about the lack of accountability for people in power when it comes to reporting possible crimes was also profound. I would not say it was incredibly so, but I did think it was clear. I thought the filmmakers handled it with care.
As for the performances, top-notch across the board. Naomi Watts and Jaeden Martell both deliver powerhouse performances as mother and son. They had good synergy, making their dialogue interesting, sad, and heartwarming at times. Everyone else also pulls out excellent performances for the film.
Bottom line, The Book of Henry is not the best movie of the year, but it certainly not the worst. It tells an intriguing and heartwarming story about a mother who lost her son and the relationship they shape when he departs.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Strong foul language, Abuse
FAVORITE QUOTE: You’re just a child.
Check out the trailer below:
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This article has been updated from a previous version.