#REVIEW: “THE BOOK OF HENRY”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is a precocious and deeply-gifted young boy living with his wild-child single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Room’s Jacob Tremblay). Henry is in love with his neighbour Christina (Maddie Ziegler), but knows she is being sexually abused by her father Glenn (Dean Norris). Henry tries to report Glenn to the authorities and various adults, but nothing ever comes of it. So he puts together a plan to stop Glenn for good – but he needs Susan’s help to pull it off.
The Book of Henry is much more elaborate than I expected based on its trailers. It goes to some pretty dark places and takes some surprising turns. But through it all, the lead performances by Lieberher, Watts and Tremblay remain constant and downright wondrous. They each bring a unique and distinct voice to their characters, and are terrific when they are interacting with each other. While Watts and Lieberher are quite good in their roles, they are completely overshadowed by Tremblay. The 10-year-old conveys a remarkable set of emotions and lights up the screen no matter what awful thing might be happening.
But the greatness of those performances is defeated by the Film’s inconsistent tone. It begins as a light-hearted family dramedy, then jumps quite drastically between a tearjerker, a coming-of-age drama and a full-blown thriller. Gregg Hurwitz’s Script mashes all of these genres together, never committing to one tone or idea for longer than a few minutes at a time. The Film’s editing fares even worse, apparent where scenes and dialogue have been removed entirely.
Lee Pace is an intriguing side character and possible love interest for Watts, but he has no defining traits, charisma or motivation for showing up multiple times in the Film’s second half. Sarah Silverman is utilized more as a plot device, but it is obvious there was so much more to her character. It makes for a very frustrating viewing experience, testing both its patience and emotions.
The Film’s greatest sin however is how it treats Norris’ Glenn. We are told that he is a repulsive abuser and possible liar, but we are never privy to what he is hiding. And every time the Film comes within seconds of showing what he’s up to, it cuts away and amps up a completely out-of-place Score instead. I was often left confused, and never felt the scope of his actions was properly addressed as the villain – at least to the point of deserving what Henry has planned for him. The Film’s choppy nature even takes away from what we are shown through Christina’s expressions and body language. I understand why we only get hints of what might be happening, but it seems too crucial a point to handle so delicately.
The Book of Henry has a curious and intriguing story buried somewhere within its surface-level innocence. When you really start to peel it open however, it crumbles under the weight of its rapidly-deteriorating tonal structure. The Film has its charming moments, especially when the three leads are interacting with each other, but even they cannot overcome a Film lacking clear direction.
Universal Pictures Canada release THE BOOK OF HENRY in select theatres on Friday, June 16, 2017.