The first reviews for Colin Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry are in, and they are brutal. The movie, which follows an extremely precocious kid (Jaeden Lieberher) and his his mother (Naomi Watts), is a genre-bending blend of family drama and thriller, but critics were less than enamored with the unrealistic plot and the film’s big twist.
Trevorrow, best known for directing Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World, and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX, may have had an inkling that critics were not going to be kind to his new film.
Thank you so much. You should become a film critic (ideally within the next 24 hours). https://t.co/q9JW0GNAIx
— Colin Trevorrow (@colintrevorrow) June 14, 2017
As it turns out, he was right to be concerned. Here’s what the actual critics has to say:
The premise is already unbelievable …
I realized I was probably going to hate Book of Henry inside of five minutes, probably around the time the 11-year-old protagonist jumped on a payphone to call his stockbroker after class and then went home to work on his Rube Goldberg machine.
… but it’s the many left-field plot twists that truly send the movie off the rails.
Journalists and critics attending screenings of The Book of Henry were asked “not to reveal the family’s secrets” in our coverage, and I think it says a lot about the unintelligible nature of the film that I have no idea what this is referring to. The movie changes its mind about what it is and what it wants to say every 10 to 15 minutes. “[…] quite suddenly, the sentimentalism gives way to Hitchcockian suspense, and the most ludicrous conceit of any American movie this year.” That’s when something terrible happens that I can’t spoil. Suffice to say that at this point The Book of Henry gathers itself in, pauses, and takes a long, considered swan dive into an empty pool.
It’s like a Frankenstein monster cobbled together out of other, better movies.
It begins as a kid-genius family picture, then abruptly becomes a terminal-illness melodrama; it winds up a bizarro thriller in which deeply unlikely crimes are plotted from beyond the grave, but not before some child-molestation action pitting a defenseless girl against her stepfather, the commissioner of police. This excruciating premise is pretty much borrowed from Cecelia Ahern’s romantic drama PS I Love You (2007), about a young widow opening letters from her dead husband telling her how to pick herself up and start her life all over again. For the first half hour or so, The Book of Henry plays like a hokey Little Miss Sunshine knock-off. Peeking out her window late at night to spy on the alleged criminal activities next door, Sarah becomes enmeshed [in] a Rear Window plot meted out by her son’s voice echoing in her head. Even if you remove the Kill Thy Neighbor plot, the sexual abuse is never approached in a realistic way.
The actors’ performances are wasted.
The preposterousness of Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay isn’t enough to throw star Naomi Watts off her game, and the actor’s sincere performance may suffice to keep a segment of the family-film demographic on board, barely. How very sad to see Sarah Silverman roped into this as Susan’s best buddy Sheila–they are waitresses at the local diner, a job which is there to showcase their indomitable good humour. Silverman’s gift for acid black humour, of course, goes to waste. Jaeden Lieberher is the best thing in the movie. As Henry, he never smiles, but he’s sly and quizzical and engaged, with a look of woodland-animal alertness that reminded me of the young Leonardo DiCaprio (remember him in “This Boy’s Life”?).
Let’s get psychoanalytical, shall we?
Or maybe it’s the alcoholic waitress who kisses young boys on the lips when their mothers are out of the room. (Don’t worry, the movie thinks it’s cute!) On the other hand, as Susan’s quick to point out, Henry’s enough man for her to handle. There may be creepy, Oedipal connotations to their relationship, but that’s hardly the most outlandish component of this movie […] “It is probably a job for a psychiatrist to figure out just why Hurwitz felt the need to construct a damsel-in-distress story that is conducted by proxy by an immature mother who is having all of her actions dictated by her young son. (Is this maybe the ultimate male fantasy of control and domination of both mother and love object?)
Critics did not hold back about how bananas this movie is.
There’s the kind of bad movie that just sits there, unfolding with grimly predictable monotony. Then there’s the kind where the badness expands and metastasizes, taking on a jaw-dropping life of its own, pushing through to ever-higher levels of garishness. The Book of Henry … is of the latter, you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-disbelieve-it variety. In its pure misjudged ickiness, bad-acting ropiness, and its quirksy, smirksy passive-aggressive tweeness, this insidiously terrible film could hardly get any more skin-crawling. The plot proceeds from the charming to the manipulative to the shameless to the demented in gentle steps that may lull some audiences the way a frog can be boiled to death by degrees. Others may watch this movie through their fingers, suspended in the delight that can attend a truly wrongheaded movie.
It might be time to start worrying about Trevorrow’s Star Wars.
The garden-variety blockbuster lameness of his Jurassic World was one thing; after this near-catastrophe, can he really be trusted with the fate of the Jedi? Going forward, Colin Trevorrow hopefully won’t be put in charge of anything too impor—oh, Jesus, that’s right.