This is the most difficult review I have ever sat down to write. Mainly because, when writing a review, it is customary to explain what the film is about. when it comes to The Book of Henry, I struggle greatly with even classifying it into a genre. Is it an adventure story? A coming of age tale? Or a family drama? Realistically, it’s none of those things. What it is, is the best movie I’ve seen all year. But it’s also one that I know most people will hate. So let’s get into it.
A defining characteristic of my taste in culture is my appreciation for when movie’s take risks. This is no more evident than in the fact that my favorite movie of all time was last year’s Swiss Army Man. If a movie I watch takes me by surprise and does something different, I will probably come out lauding it. I’m just warning you right now that that is the perspective with which I approached this movie. Because it really did take a lot of risks. Risks that, I am certain, will turn about 90% of viewers off. I will not spoil anything for you, believe me, I am the last person to do that, but I will tell you this: Whatever you’re expecting in this movie, you’re not going to get it. I avoided all marketing for this film, but I just now watched the trailer and I can assure you, had I seen it, it would have ruined the entire experience for me. The Book of Henry is a movie that presents to you classic tropes, like the boy genius, the single mom, and the girl next door, and then progressively subverts them as the movie goes on until they are completely unrecognizable from their usual stereotypes. Its genius lies in its ability to present to you a scenario and then immediately reverse all of your expectations. At every turn, it will surprise you. You can be certain of that.
I suppose the easiest way to explain this movie is it’s the story of a bright young man who takes it upon himself to help out a friend. And while it is at its heart a family-centric story, it is not a family-friendly film. This movie tackles some heavy subject matter. And I do mean heavy, not like the oversimplification that films like Up present. There were three families in the theater that screened this film who for some reason decided to bring small children to see this movie. I’m not sure why they made that decision, as it clearly backfired as at separate moments during the runtime, they each took their kids and left. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. Like I said, this movie really went there in a lot of places and I totally get how that would turn off a vast majority of audiences. I walked out of the theater believing it to be a masterpiece. Colin Trevorrow presented this tale in a wholly unique and original way. He managed to tackle a behemoth of a script that, while a fascinating story, is incredibly difficult to translate to screen, but, in my opinion, was done in a fashion that only a truly brilliant storyteller can manage. Trevorrow was able to pull fantastic performances out of his three child stars Jacob Tremblay (St. Vincent, Midnight Special), Jaden Lieberher (Room), and newcomer Maddie Ziegler (Dance Moms, yes, that Dance Moms). Each one of these kids delivered a promise with so much heart and believability that they deserve to be lauded as heroes. Naomi Watts also brought real magic to the film as the mother, as she created an empathic link between her character and us that translated throughout the duration of the runtime.
Look, this movie is going to turn a lot of people off. I get that. But just because you take issues with the subject matter doesn’t mean that you have to disparage the film’s successes. It really is a terrific piece of filmmaking from all angles. The screenplay is terrific, the acting is fantastic, and the directing is really a sight to behold. This wholly original film is, in my eye, a masterpiece, but is one that will make a lot of people angry, sad, or uncomfortable. But you know what? That’s the beauty of film, isn’t it?
All images are from The Book of Henry, a movie by Focus Features