The Book of Henry (2017)

The Book of Henry (2017) Cover

The Book of Henry is an excellent movie in every respect that works on several levels. I was expecting this to be a better than average movie for young adults, but the quality surprised me. The story has insight into maturity highlighted by detail oriented scene construction. The meticulous construction of the already smart story results in a film that had me on the edge of my seat.

At its core, The Book of Henry is about contrasting maturity against intelligence. We explore this theme by viewing the relationship of Henry and his mother Susan. Henry is a child prodigy who handles his mother’s stock options, expenses, and some life decisions. Susan plays games, slacks off with friends, works at a job she doesn’t need, and struggles with adulthood. In many ways Henry seems like the more mature character before the film challenges this idea.

When he realizes his neighbor is being abused by her father ( Glenn Sickleman), Henry tries to help her. In a lot of ways, he follows the standard channels for helping an abuse victim. He attempts speaking to school authorities and calling child protective services. After being thwarted at every turn, Henry decides that the only way to help is to murder Glenn. The drama of the story swells from Henry’s mother and her response to this plan given her struggles as a parent.

I felt that the only failing of The Book of Henry is a common one in modern stories. When we reach the end of the film, the audience gets to have their cake and eat it, too. It has that moment where the good guys choose to take the high road, but the bad guys still get punished. It undermines the decision of the characters to solve their problems the right way. Audiences will most likely find this gratifying, but it disappointed me.

Though this feels like a story for children, it goes into some dark places. Director Colin Trevorrow goes right up to the edge of very painful subject matter without showing it. There were moments that were uncomfortable for me to watch. This added to the film for me by investing me on an emotional level. However, I feel it shifts the Book of Henry to a young adult film. Parents should view it first and decide if they’re comfortable with the material.

Almost every scene did something interesting with the background. Attentive viewers get many gratifying moments with hidden jokes and subtle plot points. Some of my favorite moments were the hidden gems in the background, or even in the subtext of the character conversations.

One of the things that sold me on the story was the acting. The cast here includes both Naomi Watts and Dean Norris. Both of the younger actors, Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay, deliver when it counts. While their performances fall flat at times, the moments when they excel make up for it.

Finally, the use of sound and music impressed me. The Book of Henry makes effective use of these elements to heighten the emotions you feel. It can be a challenge to have the audio take on both personality when it’s the focus and also melt into the background when it’s supporting the action. Not only does it do that successfully, but noticeably so in a good way.

This is easily going to be one of my favorite movies of the year. I loved the way the details fleshed out the story, how the story had the right amount of foreshadowing, the characters, the themes, and ideas. The Book of Henry is a must watch and a credit to everyone involved.

Final Verdict:A film that is both excellently constructed and has interesting things to say, The Book of Henry is a must watch.