“The Book of Henry” is irresistibly confounding. It’s not pursuing the complex ambiguity of a Stanley Kubrick film. It is well-crafted entertainment made remarkable by how many genre shifts and changes of emotional tone it hits as it progresses.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, “Book of Henry” It features plot lines diverging, re-converging and evolving as the film progresses. It’s a touching family drama, and a serious crime thriller, and a comedy about kids who act like adults and immature parents who break the rules.
The film is set in a small town that looks as safe and bucolic as any Norman Rockwell community. Naomi Watts plays Susan, a single mother raising two boys. Her first, Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), isn’t simply precocious; he’s the textbook definition of genius. His mother keeps him in a standard school rather than a gifted kids’ academy to help him develop the skills he’ll need to grow up as a socially oriented, productive adult. His little brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay), is still developing but seems more like a standard-issue child.
Mom waitresses at the nearby diner, even though Henry’s stock wizardry has made that financially needless. Other than small vices like playing graphic video games and drinking with her sassy coworker, Sheila (Sarah Silverman), she is as normal as blueberry pie.
Trevorrow introduces his setting and characters with the warmhearted glow of a Spielberg film that focus on the experience of being a kid. He has a similar aptitude for directing children, yet in large part, “Book of Henry” is a story about innocence lost and the troubles of reclaiming it. The centerpiece of the film is Watts. Who else can spin empathetic and relatable performances spanning emotions from humor to numbness, despair, joy, confusion and misdirection?
The idyllic neighborhood unexpectedly turns into a menacing battleground, creating a child-in-danger movie with a Hitchcockian feel. The boys and Henry’s cute classmate and neighbor Maggie (Maddie Ziegler) are increasingly called to look angry, scared and vulnerable, and they are great at it. Henry’s resourcefulness is crucial to addressing the scary situation that develops, but it’s Susan who carries the full weight of the audience’s fear. “Henry” slips from a coming-of-age story for a child to a coming-to-responsibility story for an adult.
This is a poignant, funny film that moves into unexpected dark subjects. That means that it’s too independent-minded for a mass audience hoping to forget the bad surprises of human life. That’s what makes “Book of Henry” feel so valuable.
“The Book Of Henry”
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. 1:45. Fayette Mall, Hamburg.