Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay for The Book of Henry has been searching for a director since the late 1990s. Watching the film, it’s not difficult to see why.
Tonally, it’s all over the place. It starts as a twee family drama, all autumnal Americana and a soft Michael Giacchino score, before turning into a full-on thriller for the final 30 minutes. There are character beats and lines of dialogue a sane writer would have scrapped after the first draft – the least bizarre of which is the decision to play a supporting character’s alcoholism for laughs. Stevie Nicks wrote a song which gets sung on a ukulele (because of course it’s a ukulele), and it’s just awful.
And yet, somehow, The Book of Henry works in spite of itself. Most of the credit for this goes to the cast, who wring every last drop out of what they’re given. Jaeden Lieberher’s natural, almost otherworldly oddness makes him a perfect fit for wünderkind Henry, while Jacob Tremblay is every bit as adorable as he was in Room. But the MVP might just be Naomi Watts as the boys’ mother. She’s a fascinating character, in some ways every bit as childish as her kids – her passion for violent video games is a nice touch – and her performance keeps everything grounded even as the film threatens to go completely off the rails. But even in its maddest moments, it’s never less than watchable.
In the end, The Book of Henry functions like one of its protagonist’s Rube Goldberg machines. On paper it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but despite plenty of shaky moments it somehow holds together. Which is good news, considering Trevorrow will soon be going to a galaxy far, far away…
CAST: Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Naomi Watts, Dean Norris, Maddie Ziegler, Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace
DIRECTOR: Colin Trevorrow
WRITER: Gregg Hurwitz
SYNOPSIS: A single mother discovers a scheme in her son’s book to rescue a young girl from the hands of her abusive stepfather and sets out to execute the plan at any cost.