Colin Trevorrow is one of the more uniquely incompetent filmmakers working the scene at the moment. Taking a break between the stresses of his major franchise work he decides to unleash a smaller, more personal film onto the world, the sorta joint where unconcerned by high budgets and pushy producers he can let a little more of himself seep down into the work.
It ain’t a comforting spectacle.
The Book of Henry slides centre stage his inability to comprehend people. This comes twofold. One, none of the characters in this joint behave in a remotely human manner. Two, the film is constructed in a way that is seemingly oblivious as to how the audience will react to the shit it throwing on screen. It also continues his grand tradition of depicting women very uncharitably, they’re either not characters, or don’t have agency, or they just disappear from the film when no longer required.
I’m struggling around that title, The Book of Henry, I mean, Henry do got a book in the film but it’s a rather late plot point and the title so bad anyway. I think it’s trying to play on the quasi-religious thing which then would make Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, equally stilted in Midnight Special but at least there he was playing an alien) a messenger of God. Which feels sorta apt cos he’s definitely a filmmaker insert type character. So Henry’s a child genius, but not like any child genius, he’s the sort that bad scriptwriters design as a get out clause for any situation.
He’s perfect, almost monstrously so. There’s a bit where someone says to him that he’s a genius and he replies that he ‘prefers precocious.’ Oh God if he were precocious, that would be a relief. Instead he’s this cartoon of the hyper logical masculine figure, like, what every pissbaby man on the internet imagines themselves to be. At eleven he’s set his family up for life by trading stocks from the payphone. When he gets an inoperable brain tumour, it’s not that he realises he’s going to die, it’s that he knows literally everything about cancer and then does his best to humiliate the neurosurgeon.
He of course reacts in the most passionless ‘logical’ way possible to this news. Before he dies the script has him try psychoanalyse his relationships with his family, but all he succeeds in doing is call out the boring clichés that the godawful script leans on like a man with a broken leg and a snapped hamstring.
This is portrayed in direct contrast to his mother (Naomi Watts, what are you doing?) who works as a waitress and while she has a lot of love for her sons (because that’s the only value women can provide according to Trevorrow and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz) her behaviour would come across as casually neglectful, possibly abusive. Film don’t recognise this of course cos they live in a big house, and they’ve a autumnal forest out back, and wunderkind here has built himself a quirky Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. Nothing can possibly be wrong in their perfectly composed, production designed life.
Not next door though, where the pretty girl from Henry’s class lives with her stepfather. I’d give her a name, but the film don’t seem concerned with any petty details like that. All that matters is that baby genius here totally hot for her and she just too sad all the time to react to his advances. We all know that impossible because his mother’s coworker (Sarah Silverman, no) can barely conceal her attraction to this elEVEN YEAR OLD BOY. And that’s not even one of the worst bits.
So, she sad and Henry realises it’s because her father is abusing her (possibly sexually, the film quite unclear on this) and so he decides to construct an elaborate plan to take the fucker out. All those squares at the school and social services don’t got no idea what’s really going on. Hurwitz is clearly not as great a mind as his character though. The plan: buy a gun, shoot the dude in his back yard, dispose of the gun in a nearby dam. Perfect, fucking nailed it, one draft is all you need.
But because Sonny Jim’s cancer gets to him before he can pull this off himself he leaves recorded messages to guide mum through the whole deal. Reading that back it sounds like a fever dream, I remember watching A Monster Calls earlier this year and wondering if that was crossed the line of acceptable emotional manipulation. Compared to this it a wellspring of good taste. I ain’t even touched of some of the goofier plot points involved in this whole trash mess.
Compare it to last year’s Captain Fantastic, that film used Matt Ross’ amazing, iron clad control of tone to walk the characters through the nightmare political mess of a plot. It was as catastrophic as this but a lot of people still liked it because, even when it was turning to things like almost killing a young girl in order for the man to learn his lesson, it felt right. This is the example of when it all feel wrong.
There nowhere exists a version of this script that is good, but the bones of the story could be wrestled into a workable shape. Then once that happened an immensely talented director could heroically translate it to the screen in a way that felt natural and compelling. The Book of Henry is a nightmarish uncontrollable beast that somehow manages to make every single wrong decision possible.
The only thing coherently translated to the screen is Trevorrow’s misogyny.
This shit Suicide Squad bad.
The Book of Henry is currently screening in UK cinemas