‘The Book of Henry’
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Stars: Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher
2 (out of 5) Globes
Let’s not mince words: “The Book of Henry” is a bad movie. But what kind of bad is it? It may be the weirdest kind of bad there is. It’s bad the way “The Cobbler” and “Labor Day” are bad. These bad films aren’t bad because they’re incompetent; they star talented actors and were made by professionals (which is not to say geniuses) at their technical peak. What they are are misguided — deeply, profoundly, hard-to-believe-they’re-real misguided. These are films in which everyone involved was joined together in a collective delusion, working their hardest for a movie they believed in profoundly, unaware that they’d made something that’s tinfoil hat-level deranged. These aren’t movies for moviegoers so much as fodder for psychologists examining denial amongst groups.
Made by Colin Trevorrow in between “Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: Episode IX” — the latter a gig that might as well be rescinded — “The Book of Henry” goes so far afield we can’t even talk about the second half of the movie; there lie spoilers. In the early stretches, it’s simply a particularly annoying genus of film: the quirk-a-thon about a precocious kid — and one so vexing he actually prefers the word “precocious.” Granted, that our hero Henry is played by Jaeden Lieberher makes him easier to take; the young star of “The Midnight Special” really does seem this wicked smart. He’s a super-kid — wise beyond his 11 years, and maybe his species. He’s like Max Fischer if he was actually good at school. He moonlights as a financial wizard who’s made his small family —his single mom (Naomi Watts), his button-cute little brother (“Room”‘s Jacob Tremblay) — filthy rich. He’s a keen maker of Rube Goldberg machines. And when he suddenly comes down with a nasty brain tumor, he knows how to read MRI X-rays, too.
Oh, yes: Henry might die. That’s the first leftfield twist, of many to come, each more ridiculous than the last. Everyone involved in “The Book of Henry” seems to know they’ve made something that strains credibility, to put it lightly. That recklessness is part of the fun — for them, at least. They think they’ve made something original, clever. But as the endlessly used “This is Spinal Tap” line goes, there’s a very thin line between clever and stupid. In this case, the line separates clever from crazy. In its second half, “Henry” is so committed to a beyond bizarre, even tasteless idea you can almost find it touching, provided you manage to scrape your jaw off the floor. We can’t say much, except that it contains a nonsensical climactic reveal for the ages, and that it also makes the convincing argument that Naomi Watts looks great holding a sniper rifle. We can also say that Watts is predictably terrific. This is her second stint as a flustered mom on screens this month; the other is “Twin Peaks.” Frankly, “The Book of Henry” might be weirder.
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