A single mother discovers a scheme in her son’s book to rescue a young girl from the hands of her abusive stepfather and sets out to execute the plan at any cost.
“The Book of Henry,” directed by Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”), will push your emotions to the brink plus one step more. The film stars Naomi Watts (King Kong”) and two phenomenal child actors; Jaeden Lieberher as Henry and Jacob Tremblay as Peter. The acting was as sensational as the plot. Mind you, the plot is not necessarily realistic, it’s out there, but in a good way, a ‘what if’ way. Movies occasionally need to touch over the line of reality to be sensational, and this movie does exactly that to accomplish an incredible film.
Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) is a single mother trying to raise two boys despite her inability to grow up. Henry entertains his younger brother, Peter, while mom sits on the couch to play video games. This is not to say Susan is a bad mom, quite the opposite. She has managed to find a comfortable balance between being a wonderful and attentive mother, without engaging in the rest of the grown-up aspects of life, except possibly a bottle of wine. Henry is in charge of the more mature aspects of life his mother refuses to participate in, such as balancing the checkbook or setting a budget. She is a dreamer, a painter, and a children’s book writer.
Henry is brilliant. He can calculate math in his head. The eleven-year-old boy just functions on a higher plane than the neuro-typical. He definitely functions on a grander scheme than his mother by not just keeping track of her income as a waitress, but also investing his mom’s money, and indicating to her she could give up her job waitressing. Peter seems just to be there, but he is the heart of them home and well loved. Both his mother and older brother dote on him. Henry goes out of his way to ensure his brother laughs and is not bullied. Speaking of bullying, Henry notices the girl next door, Christina, whom he is sweet on, is being abused by her stepfather, who just happens to be the police commissioner for their small town of Calvary, New York.
Susan prefers to avoid getting in the middle of other people’s problems. She would rather stay at home with her boys or hang out with her best friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Henry tries everything he can to get the local law enforcement to intervene on behalf of Christina. No one will listen to a child, especially when he is accusing the respected police commissioner. When he suddenly becomes ill, Henry is unable to continue seeking a means of helping his classmate. Locked in a hospital bed, Henry needs Susan to protect Christina without him. The plan laid out by Henry is harsh. With no one willing to listen, he determines the only solution is to get rid of Christina’s stepfather Glenn. He lays out step by step instructions for his mother to follow to get away with murder without getting caught. The question remains, will Susan follow Henry’s plan?
The details make this movie great. The boy’s room is hand-painted by the Susan, along with little Leonardo Da Vinci inspired drawings by Henry. Every night she puts her boys to bed the same way, asking if they want the door shut and the frog light on. Henry knows which windows he needs to look through to see inside specific rooms of Christina’s house. Susan’s bestie Sheila always bickers back and forth with Henry, calling him Hank. The brothers play with homemade walkie talkies and have a homemade tree fort, which would be envied by every child in the world. Every detail was well thought out by writer Gregg Hurwitz.
Despite toeing the edge of reality, the film pulls on the audience’s emotions like a master puppeteer. In real life, some children are more mature than their parents, even genius children. This does not mean the kid would be able to manage a stock portfolio or be the one to make every grownup decision. A kid may be able to come up with an elaborate plan, but the method of delivery Henry used is far fetched at best, which did not negate the enjoyment of watching his plan play out on screen.
Christina is the most understated character. Her role is to be the meek girl next door unwilling to harm her life more by outing her evil stepfather. When the school principal, whom Henry has called to arms before without success, finally notices the girl’s pain during the school talent show, the scene is almost too much to bear. The tangible emotion finally available for the small school to see, was a shining moment for young actress Maddie Ziegler.
The only element of the film I found hard to swallow was the idea that the change in the family dynamic, at the end of the film, was the right and necessary outcome. I prefer to think the outcome was the best possible solution for the set of circumstances, but not the best result possible. Naomi Watts is commendable in her role as Susan. Finding herself through her son’s crazy scheme was a work of magic, well worth the heart-thumping almost two hours of screen time. Her determination to play the role with authenticity is appreciated. I can safely say this is one of my favorite movies of 2017, already.
Now playing in theaters