Guest Posts

The Book of Henry – An Aimless Amblin Rip-Off (Guest Review)

Colin Trevorrow is a divisive director. He was widely praised with his debut feature, Safety Not Guaranteed and was quickly handed the reigns to the Jurassic Park franchise. 2015 saw the release of Jurassic World, and the film was panned by critics, but made a whopping $1.6 billion. So, he moved on to the biggest franchise in movie history, Star Wars. But, before beginning work in a galaxy far, far away, Colin Trevorrow took to a more human indie film titled The Book of Henry. And it is wild.

Synopsis: A young boy learns that his next-door neighbor is being abused by her father, and starts writing a book about how to rescue her. When his mother discovers his plans, she decides to enact them herself. (Rovi)

Starring: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, and Jacob Tremblay

Writer: Gregg Hurwitz

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 105mins

Trailer:

The Book of Henry follows boy genius Henry (Lieberher) and his struggle to fit into a world he’s simultaneously too grown-up and not grown-up enough for. When he finds out his next door neighbor is being abused, Henry devises an elaborate plan to save his friend. He can’t go to the police or child protective services, since the abuser is the chief of police and his brother runs the local CPS.

The Book of Henry is one of the most manipulative movies ever created. There’s a base level of manipulation given the subject matter. But, that never fully takes center stage. Instead, the film circumvents that tragic situation for most its runtime and focuses on a separate tragedy entirely. The problem is, none of it is handled properly, so it plays like a hallucinatory Lifetime Original rather than a film released in theaters.

The film’s major shortcoming lies in its tone. Many scenes have unintentional punchlines where characters say some out of left field line that no normal human being would actually utter. And it’s not just because Henry’s a boy genius. Sarah Silverman’s Sheila trades flirtatious verbal barbs with Henry the way someone would talk to their friend’s handsome husband. And their relationship resolves with Sheila kissing Henry square on the mouth. It doesn’t quite undo the abuse storyline, but it raises a serious question mark.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fare too well in the structure department either. Henry’s plan is convoluted and relies on so many logical inconsistencies that it’s impossible to buy into. Furthermore, he could spare the elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death if he simply provided evidence of his friend’s abuse. Over the course of the film, both he and his mother Susan (Watts) are given ample opportunity to document the abuse.

All of that would be forgivable if the characters provided a compelling reason to keep watching. But, they don’t almost all of the characters, including the titular Harry, are defined by one trait and must carry it through the whole film. There’s no actual humanity to these characters. they exist in the vacuum of the film and that’s it. And nobody suffers from that more than Christina, the victim of the abuse. We’re never given a reason to care about her character other than the fact that no child should be abused. And that degrades her from a human that should be able to experience life to the fullest to a mere object that must be obtained by Henry’s mother.

With The Book of Henry, Colin Trevorrow attempts to flip the Amblin formula on its head. In this film, the kids act like adults and vice versa. However, the problem is that in order to deconstruct, you must know how to construct. And at every turn in the film, Trevorrow demonstrates that he has no idea why he and many others love Amblin films, just that he does love them and that should be enough. It’s a problem that penetrated the entirety of Jurassic World as well, and until he can learn how to mitigate that weakness, it’s safe to be wary when companies give him the keys to their most iconic properties.

Score: 4/10

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