It took The Book of Henry all of two minutes to reveal its deep, inescapable obnoxiousness. Impossibly precocious Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is called to the front of the class to reflect on his legacy. First he scoffs at the assignment as “comfort food to stave off an existential crisis”—he's 11!—then proceeds to tell his classmates that our true legacy is loving each other. So it’s sanctimonious and far-fetched—setting the tone perfectly for this risible film.
⇓ Article continues below ⇓
Henry lives with his single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and his saucer-eyed kid brother, Peter (The Room’s Jacob Tremblay). Susan, a waitress at a greasy spoon, is a loving mother but something of a woman-child, who sits on the couch playing video games (really) and drinks more wine than she should with her best friend and fellow waitress Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Henry is the “man” of the house, doing the bills, playing the stockmarket (successfully), and minding his kid brother. He’s also an inventor, who makes elaborate, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions in his boho-chic tree house. The film, which is directed by Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, is full of aggressive whimsy—both Henry and Peter wear a series of oversized hats and goggles just because—but it has a dark secret at its center: Henry suspects that next door neighbor Glenn (Dean Norris), the police commissioner, is abusing his step-daughter, Christina (Maddie Ziegler). The film is so discreet about this abuse—never showing it; only training on Henry’s horrified face as he watches—that I briefly thought Henry might be wrong about it. But that would be much more interesting than anything on offer here.
Somehow, all-knowing Henry is the only one who sees this abuse—Christina herself never talks about it (her character is essentially a cipher), no one asks her about it, and no one believes Henry when he reports it. Since Glenn is the police commissioner, he’s apparently above the law, meaning Henry has to take matters into his own hands.
And then, as if the film weren’t already a horrifying mishmash of quirk and sentimentality and cynicism, a major character dies. Some reviews have chosen to reveal who dies—out of spite?— but I won’t do that here. Suffice to say that from there, things only gets more preposterous.
I didn’t believe a single moment of The Book of Henry. Despite the best efforts of the cast, I laughed when I was supposed to cry and resented the hell out of the film’s force fed “life lessons.” It’s just a good old fashioned stinker.