The Book of Henry

In its opening chapters, The Book of Henry is a domestic drama about protective parenting, arrested development, child welfare and sibling bonds. By the end, it’s a revenge thriller driven by maternal instincts and vigilante rage.

While both of those ideas could make for compelling cinematic storytelling, getting from Point A to Point B proves considerably more difficult for this muddled small-scale effort from director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) that consistently rings false.

The title character (Jaeden Lieberher) is an analytical 11-year-old prodigy locked in a role reversal with his single mother (Naomi Watts). He takes care of the family finances while she comes home after work and plays video games. Yet theirs is a relationship of mutual caring and respect, and support for Henry’s mischievous younger brother (Jacob Tremblay).

Henry develops a friendship with a classmate (Maddie Ziegler) who lives next door, only to discover a possible dark secret about her family that prompts him to plot an act of vengeance. Yet Henry’s scheme is threatened by circumstances beyond his control, and it’s up to his mother to step in for her son and save the day.

Despite some intriguing character dynamics and strong performances, the film indulges in shameless pandering rather than emotional authenticity and winds up feeling totally detached from reality.

Lieberher (Midnight Special) and Tremblay (Room) achieve a convincing brotherhood bond, and teenage dancer Ziegler offers a striking big-screen debut in a mostly quiet and introspective role.

Before transitioning to blockbuster sequels — he’s also set to helm the highly anticipated Star Wars Episode IX — Trevorrow proved himself capable of offbeat, character-driven projects with the delightful Safety Not Guaranteed. Yet here, he’s working with material that doesn’t have the narrative dexterity to juggle its awkward shifts in tone and its implausibly eye-rolling twists.

Rookie screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz, best known as a novelist and comic-book author strains for sentimentality and delivers the payoff with sledgehammer subtlety. The result squanders its fleeting moments of poignancy and charm.

While it doesn’t subject itself to genre conventions, the film too often reaches for concepts outside its grasp. Ultimately, The Book of Henry isn’t engaging enough to satisfy on either the page or the screen.


Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.