The Book of Henry (2017)

“One little miscalculation and the whole thing fails.”

I’m happy that it took a long seven months, but I have now finally seen my least favorite film of 2017, and folks, it ain’t even close. The Book of Henry is a movie that takes a major risk in sharply transitioning between different tones and genres altogether, and it rightfully doesn’t reap any of the rewards of such a blindly bold chess move. It’s a manipulative story about children who don’t ever really get to be kids, adults who aren’t very mature, and their awkward cohabitation in a world that not only makes zero sense as a character drama or a thriller, but seems to be purposefully sociopathic by its very design. The Book of Henry knows that it is a challenging movie and occasionally is even competently made; I’ve seen plenty of films this year that were more lacking of direction or influence. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has been this tasteless. It’s like going on an unwilling run and swallowing a bug before rounding the first corner.

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a literal smart-ass incapable of snark and a know-it-all who is well aware that he knows it all. Imagine a pre-teen Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory and Henry is the natural offspring, only lacking self-degradation and humor and the humanizing side of humiliation. He’s Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame but without wit or personality. And yet, 11-year-old Henry runs the home, managing stocks and bonds and the family portfolio while his mother Susan (Naomi Watts) pulls part-time shifts at the local diner and plays video games. (On a side note, watching Watts, a 2-time Oscar nominee miserably fail to convincingly fake playing these games ripped out my heart. She is so, so much more deserving of proper material and direction). Both Susan and the token little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) are practically nondescript without Henry’s existence, and all the while, Henry is a young man who doesn’t really seem to exist in this realm. The Book of Henry has absolutely no idea how to categorize itself or its population. Task librarians across the country with designating such a tale in the Dewey Decimal System and they would go mad.

Peter is a character planted in the story to serve as innocent eyes that will cry when the moment calls for it. Like so many little brothers, and I can speak from experience, he is inextricably tied to his big bro, making Peter more an extremity of Henry than he is a unique child. Susan isn’t much better as the irresponsible mother, telling her co-worker and wine-o Sheila (Sarah Silverman), “find me another male of the species who’s more grown up than him.” This is enough drama for a film, let alone a 10 episode run of a kitschy series, but The Book of Henry still has more up its proverbial sleeve. How could we forget about the girl next door? SPOILER ALERT FROM THE TRAILER: She’s Christina (Maddie Ziegler), a presumed victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father Glen (Dean Norris), a local police commissioner. Henry doesn’t advocate violence but blatantly states that the only thing worse is apathy. I suspect the film’s childish nature directed it to mistake this emotion as an avenue towards vengeance instead of contemplating the harmful effects of neglect.

Writer Gregg Hurwitz has penned this screenplay as a poor man’s head-scratcher influenced by Diablo Cody’s Juno; hardly a single line, and I seriously mean that barely any of the dialogue at all, feels as if it could come from the belly of a living and breathing human. Nobody talks this way or walks this way. Director Colin Trevorrow doesn’t improve on the written word either, asserting himself when he should be distanced and relinquishing his supposed vision when it needs entrenched. Trevorrow understands scene blocking, editing, and how to create a fictional world with an atmospheric quality. But despite his greatest or most misguided efforts, The Book of Henry is a desperately perplexing genre exercise without the muscle to force its way through or the finesse to earn its oblique oddity over 90+ minutes. The film lingers in the warm-up phase, shaking its arms, kicking its legs, doing anything to be emblazoned with the beat of a heart. The pulse is lost to faint echoes.

There’s an infamous line from the legendary Stanley Kubrick that applies to this dire excuse of a film all too well. Jerry Lewis – who was editing a movie as Kubrick worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey – said, “you cannot polish a turd.” Kubrick responded with, I imagine in a droll tone, “you can if you freeze it.” Not in this case, though. The Book of Henry is such a festering, execrable, piled high mound of dreck that not even Mr. Miyagi could teach us to wax on and wax off this diarrhea into a shape of anything resembling a film with a nice shiny finish. I didn’t enjoy a single part of its being, trolling its audiences along like a lazy fisherman hell-bent on decimating the intelligence of the idiots willing to fly this metal-tipped kite in a thunderstorm. Need some paper for your next bonfire this summer? Print out The Book of Henry’s script, toss each piece into the pit, douse it with kerosene, and watch the flames come to life. Besides giving us an anathema to aim our discord and discontent at, this failed Rube Golbdberg of a movie defines Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

“Whatever happens to me won’t change what you are.”

Rating: 0 out of 5

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