Movie Review: The Book of Henry
The Book of Henry is one of those films that will be a standout for me for 2017. Directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed) and written by Gregg Hurwitz, it follows the story of boy genius, Henry Carpenter, and his family. Jaeden Lieberher portrays young Henry while Naomi Watts plays his mother, Susan, and Jacob Tremblay steals the show as Henry’s younger brother, Peter. The supporting cast is also aided by Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace, Dean Norris, and Maddie Ziegler.
Henry, the 11-year-old genius, helps keep his family running. He balances the bank account, invests in stocks, and ultimately, keeps his mother and brother on track. He makes sure his brother is protected from bullies and that their mom, Susan, is being a good influence. Their next door neighbors are Police Commissioner Glenn Sickleman and his stepdaughter, Christina. Early in the film, Henry is concerned that abuse is present in the Sickleman house based on Christina’s evolving reticent behavior. He has tried to report those concerns in the past, but nothing has ever come to fruition. After witnessing the abuse one night, Henry takes action and begins drawing up plans for how to save Christina from her situation. As time moves on, the task falls to his mother, Susan, and the tension kicks up a notch as she follows her genius son’s plans.
I have to be honest and say that it’s a little hard to review this film. There is a major twist in the second act, and in order to maintain that surprising storyline, I have to be mindful of my words. I will say, though, that these performances were stellar. Jaeden Lieberher made me believe that he was an eleven-year-old genius; he has this overwhelming compassion for others and yet still consistently shows his brilliance in big and small ways throughout the film. He is to star later this year in the remake of It, and while I am no fan of horror films, I think it might be worth the watch just for him. Naomi Watts has always been a fantastic actress, but she shines in this role as the single mother who has to grow up and be the adult. Lastly, Jacob Tremblay’s performance of Peter was heartwarming and at times heartbreaking, and this star from Room has a long career ahead of him. Each of their performances feel genuine and sometimes raw, and it added to the quality of the story.
However, the real star of this film in my opinion is the story and the themes explored. I don’t think this is a spoiler since it was explored in the trailer, but Henry’s ultimate plan is to kill Christina’s stepfather. This plan might sound a little crazy, but it’s coming from an eleven year old with a big heart who thinks that they must help those that cannot help themselves. That alone is enough to grab your attention, but then the family dynamics also enrich this story. Naomi Watt’s character loves her boys, but she’s not good at some of the practical things; she’s not good at balancing bank accounts and making tough decisions. It leaves Henry as the provider in some sense, and through all those circumstances, the film goes on to touch on subjects like mortality, growing up, personal responsibility, and child-like thinking.
At the end of the day, this film is heavy. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I found it to be surprising, amazingly complex, and genuine. Even throughout all of these serious subjects, they manage to implant small moments of humor and running themes that are heartwarming. The relationship between Susan and her two boys makes it worth the watch. Plus, Jacob Tremblay in glasses might be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. So, if you’re looking for a unique, emotional journey on the big screen, I have to recommend The Book of Henry.