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This is an interesting one to talk about today. What makes this movie interesting? Let’s start with the director. Colin Trevorrow began his feature-length filmography with a small-budget, character-driven, rounded story film called Safety Not Guaranteed. Three years later he made the exact opposite film with Jurassic World. I didn’t hate Jurassic World, but I definitely wouldn’t say that it handles character or story well. That’s why I was excited to see The Book of Henry. I wanted to see if Trevorrow could get back to his focused direction before taking on Star Wars Episode 9. It also has two of my favorite child actors. Jaeden Lieberher was amazing in St. Vincent and Midnight Special while Jacob Tremblay was worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance in Room, one of my favorite films of 2015. The trailer looked very mysterious, and I still couldn’t quite grab onto all of this movies secrets. Most surprises are unlocked the minute you see the trailer, but The Book of Henry wasn’t going to be that way. Let’s talk about the movie!
The Book of Henry is directed by Colin Trevorrow and stars Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Maddie Ziegler, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, and Lee Pace. Now this section is where I usually give a short plot synopsis. I think that the best way to see this movie is without much prior knowledge, so I’m just going to say that this film is about a gifted young boy named Henry, played by Jaeden Lieberher, and with the help of his ever loyal mother and brother, he plans to help his classmate through a miserable home life.
I think that this is going to be a movie for conversation. I don’t see this movie opening to great reviews or even close to 100% positive reactions. Why is that? That’s because this movie is different. You won’t see a movie like this, especially during the summer season, and I think that’s the reason a lot of people are going to walk out of the theater upset or disappointed. It’s not going to spoon-feed you everything you were looking for and hoping for. It’s not structured similarly to every comic book film. It doesn’t keep a single tone or shy away from introducing things might scare audiences away, but that’s what I loved about this movie so much. I was mentally and emotionally captivated by everything that occurred on-screen, and it all boiled down to the characters and the way this film surprised me. The performances were absolutely amazing. Jaeden Lieberher’s Henry is a boy genius, but he’s so much more. He has so many different qualities that make us, the audience, truly care about his character, and he’s completely transparent. There is nothing fake about him. He’s not trying to hide anything. Yes, he’s a kid, and he can be silly and mess around, but at the end of the day I felt like I knew this character and this family, and I understood him on a personal level. Jacob Tremblay is also in this movie, and he gives a performance on the same level of his performance in Room. Tremblay plays Henry’s younger brother named Peter. Peter isn’t a genius like Henry, but he has so many other qualities that make him likable. One thing that I loved about Tremblay’s performance as well as the character is that his sense of wonder is never lost, but he can also understand mature ideas. Henry, at times, is essentially an adult, but Peter has that childlike quality about him that gives him a refreshing sense of naivety while also giving him the capacity for some adult conversation and a mature level of love. I bought into every line he delivered through emotion, and his character and his performance made me experience multiple different emotions like happiness, sadness, frustration, and many others in the span of minutes. I also have to praise Maddie Ziegler. She doesn’t have many lines in this film, but she doesn’t need dialogue to carry the weight of her home-life on her shoulders. She looks like she has been emotionally battered and bruised on top of what we come to understand happens to her physically, and the fact that she chooses not to say much shows us more about her character than if she decided to talk everyone’s ears off about her problems. I think that aspect reflects reality extremely well. I wouldn’t be able to finish this review without discussing Naomi Watts. She goes through some crazy changes throughout the film, and even if you’ve seen the trailer, you have no idea what I’m talking about. It’s almost as though she plays two different characters with the same heart and soul, and her laughs, tears, and frustrations are true. What I might have loved most about this film was that it dared to be gutsy. There are moments of this film in which I feel right at home, but in short periods of time I was bucked off the horse, and I mean that in the best way possible. Most pieces of this narrative are insane, crazy, weird, misfitting, and unexpected which makes me so happy. Audiences aren’t going to be able to go into The Book of Henry and flick their brains off. They’re going to have to buckle down because the film is a roller coaster that throws you side to side without warning. In a world that thrives on social norms, following the leader, and clichés, I loved seeing The Book of Henry laugh in the face of norms. From the way the story is told to the structure as a whole to its individual scene structure, it’s a slap in the face to stereotypes, and any film that has the guts to stand its ground and stand by its decisions while becoming a fascinating emotional earthquake can impress me.
I mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again. People are going to take issue with this story. There is a moment where this movie does a backflip and becomes something completely different, and for the most part I thought Trevorrow was able to combine the two pieces as well as possible, but it does feel uneven, and you feel the switch. It’s a very rough transition, and while I fully appreciate that it faced that transition head-on, likely knowing that it was a difficult one, I still do want to acknowledge that it’s felt, and it’s no light poke. Next, plausibility is another thing that will surely be criticized. Once this movie makes that shift, a lot of what happens becomes a stretch when it comes to timing and knowledge. It relies on you to accept a character’s omniscience, and if you can’t buy into this, I can see it being an eye-roller. Again, the fact that this film doubles down on its ideas impresses me, and it even pokes fun at the idea at times, but the way the tone-shift affects plausibility definitely has the chance to lose some viewers. Finally, there are moments in which you can draw immediate conclusions. There are so many moments that come unexpectedly, so when something comes that you’ve seen before, it is especially noticeable. I don’t want to spoil these moments for anyone who is excited to see this film because I think it’s best to know nothing, but the second half offers up pieces that we’ve seen before to conclude this chaotic story.
Overall, The Book of Henry is one of those movies that really surprised me with the way it stood next to its odd choices and embraced its unconventional features without apologies. The performances are absolutely fantastic, and with three of the stars being fourteen years old or younger, that’s very impressive. They had me emotionally invested in this family as we saw exactly how it operates. This family doesn’t work like a standard and typical family. Each member takes on a special role and gives the other members exactly what they need to propel functionality. The Book of Henry is going to laugh in the faces of storytelling norms, structural norms, and character norms, and that’s what I liked so much about it. I do think many people who see this movie will have issues with it. I don’t blame them. It does feel uneven once it makes one of the biggest tonal shifts I’ve ever seen in theaters. With the first half being a grounded family film, the second half can throw viewers off with a hardcore thriller giving characters decisions that you wouldn’t have expected them to make given plausibility and their already developed traits. If you don’t like this movie, I understand. It’s different, it upsets conventions, and it can be testing, but that’s exactly what I loved about it. If you’re that person who complains that Hollywood never makes original movies, The Book of Henry might give you what you’re looking for. I’m going to give The Book of Henry a 7.8/10.
Will you be checking out The Book of Henry? If you do, comment down in the comment section and let me know what you thought because this is one I’m extremely curious to hear opinions about. As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!