The Book of Henry (2017)
Written by Gregg Hurwitz
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Henry Carpenter is an 11-year-old boy living in the Hudson Valley who is practically perfect in every way. He wows his schoolteacher, his mom, and pretty much everyone he comes across. He has taken over managing the family’s money while his mother works part-time as a waitress and writes/illustrates children’s books. But Henry has also discovered a terrible secret about the girl next door. She is in an abusive situation, and Henry feels as if he is the only person who can do something about this. So Henry begins to devise a plan.
I have never like Colin Trevorrow. He has had two previous films released (Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World), and I found both to be bland, lacking in any sort of style and worst of all thinking they are incredibly intelligent when they are just pretty stupid. The Book of Henry is no exception to this trend, and I would be lying if I said watching this was not inspired by the schadenfreude of Trevorrow losing the job of directing Star Wars Episode 9 because of this turd of a film.
The biggest problem with The Book of Henry is its transparent phoniness. Every bit of emotion or sentiment is so overly contrived and unearned. This is a movie where you are meant to be in tears at a couple key scenes, and I would be shocked to find a theater audience dumb enough to fall for the sloppy plotting tricks being pulled off. The rule of “show don’t tell” has been tossed out the window in the very first scene. Henry’s classmates are giving a series of speeches about what they want their legacies to be when they die. It’s Henry’s turn, and he gives such a smarmy, pretentious load of horseshit about how our legacy should just be to do the best we can with the time we have. The delivery makes me want to smack this punk. This is followed by Henry’s teacher gushing “Remind me again why we can’t send you to an advanced school.” That’s bad enough by Henry retorts a whole spiel about being in a “normie” school is suitable for his social development as a child, of course saying all of this as if he is still above everyone.
The movie wants us to think Henry is just the best damn human being that ever walked the Earth. Henry is the most intelligent, most empathic, most witty, most everything to ever do anything, dammit! Why won’t you love him?! If I actually met someone like Henry I feel I’d roll my eyes to the point they’d be stuck in that position. There is never a single moment that this character comes across as anyone who would exist in any possible reality. Henry is never presented with a single flaw unless you count “caring TOO much” as a weakness. The one frailty that is revealed is yet another instance of piss poor writing that hits tired movie tropes in an attempt to use shortcuts to affect the audience.
The film reaches a point that the AV Club has said: “flirts queasily with fascism.” Beyond the pure cult of personality that this town as seemingly developed for the movie’s horrible protagonist, there is an insidious underlying message about people needing to take the law into their own hands. This is emphasized by how the villain of the movie holds a position of power in the community and thus no one will even investigate the crime Henry has witnessed. Saint Henry literally says the only solution to this problem is to MURDER A PERSON! The film glorifies the moral outlook of an immature child, never really dealing with the complexities of killing another human being. Oh yes, the movie finds a way to have its cake and it too without ever honestly addressing the problem it introduces, because of course, this film would. At some point, you just have to sit back and let the wave of garbage, cynical filmmaking disguised as wholesome wash over you.
This crime leads to one of many jarring tonal shifts through the film. About 40 minutes into the picture we’re thrown a “twist” or as I call it a plot contrivance that is confusing regarding understanding what story this movie is telling. The film starts going to gun stores, and we have someone target practicing with a sniper rifle in the woods. What began as a gratingly whimsical Amblin-esque character study becomes a dark and violent melodrama that is equally stupid. So many plotlines are brought up and then either abandoned or poorly addressed.
Colin Trevorrow didn’t deserve to be kicked off of Star Wars Episode 9 because he never deserved to be given the job in the first place. I don’t understand how anyone could have seen his previous two movies and thought he would be responsible for making anything other than a steaming pile of excrement. I’m left feeling that the inexplicably high box office returns of Jurassic World were the primary motivators for the executives at Lucasfilm. According to IMDB, he has no future directorial work on the horizon so here’s to hoping he fades from the annals of filmmaking. Don’t let the door hit you, Colin.