I apologize ahead of time because this may be more of a rant rather than a review. When I saw the trailer for this film I thought it looked “Okay”, but was thoroughly interested because I really like Colin Trevorrow’s first film, Safety Not Guaranteed. This may be a weird connection, but watching the trailer I saw some parallels between it and Gifted. Both directed by two directors (Colin Trevorrow and Marc Webb) who made the leap from indie films to a blockbuster franchise with mixed results (even though I really do like Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman). Both Gifted and The Book of Henry are films about a kid who is a genius. The main difference between the two is that Gifted is very formulaic, albeit sweet. Whereas The Book of Henry is unconventional and takes chances, but remains an inherently insane film.
When someone hurts someone else we have to make it better.
Here is the thing, I applaud the film for doing something new. It starts off as a quirky family friendly film, then you find out the girl neighbor is being abused by her step-father, then Henry dies and leaves a book for Naomi Watts which details how she could murder the step-father and get custody of the little girl. For all of the film’s faults, this is a pretty original take on a film. However, it is important to note that an original film does not equate to a good film.
Let us first go through the “kid friendly” part of the film. Henry is this child prodigy who lives with his down to Earth but immature mother, and his lovable little brother. The little brother seems to be really smart too but the film never really explores this so I honestly have no idea. Henry is pretty much the perfect human being. He can create anything, which he frequently does so in his treehouse. A treehouse so nice that it could be a home for a homeless man. He can also come up with inspirational speeches on the spot (I am pretty sure that little speech he gave on legacy in the beginning of the film was all made up on the spot). Not only that but he takes care of his entire family, meaning that he does his taxes and makes sure his mom is being responsible. Oh yeah, and he is able to prevent bullies from picking on his little brother. He is, as I said, pretty much the perfect human being. His mother is not. Her talents include getting drunk with her alcoholic friend (played by Sara Silverman), playing video games instead of doing taxes, and being late to pick up Henry and Peter from school. Sure, she loves her kids and has a big heart, but if she loved them so much why would she be such a terrible mother? Oh yeah, and she has $600,000 dollars. How did she get that money? Henry got it for her of course. How you ask? I do not know, the film might have mentioned it but I honestly do not remember how.
You have to ask your eleven year-old?
As soon as Henry looks over to his neighbors window (played by Maddie Ziegler) and sees her step dad abusing her, the film shifts tonally. I do not mind the shift, but it happens far too abruptly. After Henry sees this he tries to get her stepdad (played by Dean Norris) caught. The only problem is that he is the police chief and no one will go against him. So now Henry realizes that if he is to help his neighbor, he must kill the step dad. This leads up to one of the most ridiculous scenes in the whole film. Henry goes to a gun store and just happens to enter when someone is there trying to purchase illegal firearms. How convenient for him! Now Henry knows how he can get illegal firearms too. Henry keeps planning his murder until he is taken to the hospital because of a tumor in his head. Unfortunately the tumor gets the best of Henry and he dies halfway through the film.
But guess what? He left his book detailing how to murder the stepdad (Hey, I guess that is the Book of Henry huh?) for his mom. He also left a recording of himself so he could help guide his mom. This is where the film truly begins to fall apart. Henry can apparently predict what people will say and do, because his mother is able to have conversations with his recordings. Also, this is the part of the film where the $600,000 are useful. It pays for a sniper rifle, a silencer for the sniper, and a getaway car too. It is almost like the writer casually wrote the $600,000 into the plot just so she could buy everything necessary for the murder. But I digress. So now the film reaches its climax. Naomi Watts takes her younger son along with the stepdad’s stepdaughter to some talent competition. She sneaks out the back and prepares to snipe the stepdad. She somehow lures him out of his home all the way to an abandoned field and guess what? She does not take the shot. Instead she realizes that Henry is a kid and killing is the wrong approach to this situation. She then confronts the stepdad, he ends up killing himself, and she gets custody of his stepdaughter. I hope you are thinking about how stupid this all sounds, because that is what it is. This is a stupid film. What is the point of all this? What message did the filmmakers want to achieve? If you know please let me know because I truly do not know.
I hate to say it, but I kind of hated this film. The acting is solid all around, the camera work is good, the music is memorable, but the dialogue and narrative are truly awful. I like it when a film tries to do something new, but everything about this film just did not work.