The Book of Henry

 

star

 


A comic weepie steeped in sentimentality yet touching on paedophilia.

 
Book of Henry, The  

Brought to book: Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay

 

Try to offer something for everybody and you can end up with nothing for anybody. That risk has rarely been so well illustrated as by Gregg Hurwitz's screenplay for The Book of Henry. Hurwitz is a successful novelist specialising in thrillers who has also written for television, but he is clearly attempting something new here. Unfortunately the bits and pieces of the tale he has concocted never fit together in any meaningful way and the fault line goes so deep that I am surprised that his screenplay was ever put into production.

 

Just consider. His story, set in suburban America, tells of single mother, Susan Naomi Watts, bringing up two boys, the 11-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) and the 8-year-old Peter (Jacob Tremblay, from Room). The fact that Susan is a good mother quickly introduces a strongly sentimental tone that will only become ever more nauseating as the film goes on. Initially, however, this seems to be a comedy about a child genius (it is Susan who is a sucker for video games and Henry is more adept with investment knowledge than she is), But then attention turns to the house next door. There Christina (Maddie Ziegler) lives with her stepfather (Dean Norris) and, like a boy detective in fiction of yore, Henry, being suspicious about what is going on there, sets out to investigate.

 

This could suggest a film aimed at very young audiences, but what Henry suspects is that Christina is being abused by her paedophile stepfather. Even so, the movie continues to play for comedy until it suddenly takes a totally unexpected turn and becomes a weepie. Nevertheless the would-be comic lines continue to feature. What follows has Susan encouraged to take the lead in protecting Christina by shooting dead her stepfather. This is so preposterous as to appear fantastical, yet we are meant to take it seriously and to find real tension in it while also being offered many more jokey lines along the way.

 

The cast is a talented one and they don't disgrace themselves except in so far as one wonders how they could have signed on for a film which from the outset must have looked unworkable. In its grossly sentimental way the movie, while not following through on a hint of romance for Susan, contrives to deliver a happy ending. But watching it is not a happy experience and never could have been.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Tonya Pinkins.

 

Dir Colin Trevorrow, Pro Sidney Kimmel, Jenette Kahn and Adam Richman, Screenplay Gregg Hurwitz, Ph John Schwartzman, Pro Des Kalina Ivanov, Ed Kevin Stitt, Music Michael Giacchino, Costumes Melissa Toth.

 

Double Nickel Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment-Universal Pictures.
105 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 23 June 2017. Cert. 12A.