The Book of Henry
dir Colin Trevorrow
scr Gregg Hurwitz
prd Sidney Kimmel, Carla Hacken, Jenette Kahn, Adam Richman
with Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, Tonya Pinkins, Bobby Moynihan, Geraldine Hughes, Maxwell Simkins, Jackson Nicoll
release US 16.Jun.17, UK 23.Jun.17
17/US Focus 1h45
The Book of Henry
Who's the parent? Tremblay, Lieberher and Watts

silverman norris pace
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Book of Henry As this film crosses between various genres, the jarring shifts in tone continually throw us out of the story. This makes it difficult to get properly involved, despite extraordinary acting from the central trio playing a single mother and her two sons. Director Colin Trevorrow works to smooth over the seams, but the way it plays out feels increasingly artificial.

Susan (Watts) lives in a huge old house with her two sons: 11-year-old Henry (Leiberher) is a prodigy whose attention to detail keeps the household running, while younger brother Peter (Tremblay) is his loyal sidekick. Henry is starting to suspect that his classmate Christina (Ziegler), who lives next door, may be the victim of abuse from her police commissioner stepdad Glenn (Norris). Clearly, calling the cops to investigate isn't going to work, so Henry starts making an elaborate plan, which he writes down in his red notebook.

To be honest, this isn't precisely how the narrative plays out, as there are a couple of pivotal events along the way that turn the film from a charming childhood adventure to a dark family drama to a creepy thriller with echoes of Hitchcock's Rear Window. There are emotions going in all directions, touching on coming-of-age themes, the complex parent-child dynamic and a gurgling undercurrent of suspense that threatens to erupt at any moment. In addition, side characters introduce a number of other possibilities.

Thankfully, everything is anchored on Watts' remarkably full-bodied performance as a woman who feels woefully unprepared to be a mother, so it's a lucky thing she has such an efficient son. The main joy of this story is watching her realise that she needs to think for herself, and that being a mom has nothing to do with being the smartest person in the room. Alongside her, Leiberher and Tremblay deliver performances that are just as engaging, revealing startling complexity in both characters.

Problems emerge when the personal drama tips toward sentimentality just as the thriller plot kicks into gear. This leaves the final act feeling contrived, with characters doing implausible things while Trevorrow and writer Hurwitz try to crank up the heartstrings with some cheesy cross-cutting. Instead of allowing these compelling people to live out their story in a meaningful way, they are pushed in directions that leave us cold. While this is an intriguing attempt to break the barrier between movie genres, it also shows how important integrity is to a plot.

cert 12 themes, language 15.Jun.17

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