Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Director Colin Trevorrow followed up his delightful, shoestring-budgeted 2012 debut Safety Not Guaranteed with the slightly bigger budgeted Jurassic World in 2015. That blockbuster shattered box-office records on its way to becoming the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time. Following that success, Trevorrow surely could have lived in the blockbuster franchise realm—he will return to that stratosphere with 2019’s Star Wars: Episode IX—but instead he returned to less extravagant fare for his next film with The Book of Henry, a story of a single mother and her two young boys.
Naomi Watts stars as Susan Carpenter, a waitress raising two young boys on her own. But Susan has an advantage that most single mothers do not have: the most intelligent, mature, and caring 11-year-old anyone has ever met. The parental roles are essentially reversed. While Susan is shooting up aliens on her XBOX, Henry is busy paying the bills and handling her portfolio. He is a whiz at the stock market and insists that his mother no longer needs to work, but Susan needs it if only to still feel like she is contributing. Henry also likes to build intricate Rube Goldberg-like contraptions with the help of his younger brother Peter.
Henry is also fond of his classmate and next door neighbor Christina, but he begins to suspect that she is being abused by her stepfather Glenn. Henry subscribes to the “see something, say something” philosophy and tries to report the crimes, but not only is Glenn the police commissioner, his brother is the head of child services. Also, no adult is willing to risk such a potentially devastating accusation on the claims of an 11-year-old with no actual proof. So Henry begins formulating his own plan to help Christina; but to pull it off, he is going to need his mother’s help.
The most irresistible thing about The Book of Henry is its adorable cast. Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay are easily two of the brightest under-fifteen actors Hollywood has going right now. Lieberher debuted opposite Bill Murray in 2014’s St. Vincent and had mysterious gifts in last year’s under-seen sci-fi thriller Midnight Special. The actor is quite convincing here as a kid who is mature far beyond his years and his performance does well to ground the film, allowing for Watts to play the less focused mom while Tremblay just gets to be adorable as the younger brother. Tremblay, whose work in the 2015 film Room was every bit as impressive as his co-star Brie Larson, who took home the Best Actress Oscar for her work in the film. Like that film, The Book of Henryalso uses Tremblay’s undeniably innocent face to focus some of the movie’s more dramatic, emotional moments. The two boys have great chemistry together and feel like real brothers, even with a bigger emotional age gap than their actual age gap.
The opening half of the movie does an excellent job of setting up the mildly quirky characters and their relationships before shifting into something of a thriller in the second half. Alert viewers will find hints in the opening credits of what is to come in the latter half, but certainly not enough to ruin the few surprises the movie has in store along the way. The movie moves well and hits some big emotional moments along the way, building towards an ending that, while satisfying, does feel a little forced. One major beat in particular feels a little disingenuous as one character takes action on something that she refuses to do earlier, despite not really being given any additional motivation for doing so.
The movie asks both how far you would go to help someone in need and how far you should go. Although the answers get a little lost in the end, it does not detract from the overall feel of a movie that is charming and humorous at times, suspenseful and thrilling at others, while not forgetting to pack in an emotional punch.