Tuesday, January 2, 2018

UNPUBLISHABLE: a review of "The Book Of Henry"

Screenplay Written by Gregg Hurwitz
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
* (one star)

Just as with the good movies and especially, the great movies, all bad movies are not the same

There are the films that are bad for no other reason than all of the pieces of the cinematic puzzle just did not merge together in the very best way, regardless of the talent involved. It is as if the stars were simply not aligned. Then, there are the bad movies, where it really depends upon the sense and sensibilities of each, individual viewer, for what is artful to me may be garbage for someone else. And then, there are the movies that just cannot be reasoned with, or rationalized with or can even be saved. The bad movies that just careen off the rails, sometimes spectacularly. Colin Trevorrow's "The Book Of Henry" is one of those bad movies.

Dear readers, there is a strong difference between the badness of a film like "The Mountain Between Us" and "The Book Of Henry," because where the former was one that took a decent concept and executed it poorly, the latter is one that was horrific at conception. Frankly, "The Book Of Henry" is a howler!! The type of bad film where I could not help but to wonder just how the money lenders and powers-that-be read this screenplay and decided to throw money at the project to allow it to hit the silver screen. I am honestly stunned that not one person either before, during or after the filming took a look at what was being made and simply said to Trevorrow, "Uh...brother...you really need to sit down for this..."

In fact, this film is so terrible that I am almost recommending that you view it anyway just so you can have the experience of witnessing precisely how a movie can go so wrong so immediately, as this one does indeed careen off of the tracks and for two hours, we just get to watch this whole enterprise fall to its destruction in utter disbelief.

"The Book Of Henry" stars Jaeden Lieberher as Henry Carpenter, a genius child unlike any you have seen before...or could stomach. Yes, he is a star student, with a fully accessible adult vocabulary, perspective and worldview that makes him a perfect candidate for copious time spent in a closed, dark hallway locker.

Anyhow, he is the protective big brother to his younger sibling Peter Carpenter (Jacob Tremblay) from the school bully (no problem there), and clearly the "adult" figure in his home life as the boys' single Mother, Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts), a waitress in a local dive restaurant operated by former SNL cast member Bobby Moynihan, as well as aspiring children's book author/illustrator, is essentially only capable of eating sweets and playing violent video games while Henry handles the entirety of the household's finances and bills.

OK... next door to the Carpenters live the Sicklemans, a duo which includes Henry's pretty yet sullen classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler from Lifetime television's "reality" TV car crash "Dance Moms") and her stone-faced stepfather and police commissioner, Glenn (Dean Norris), whom Henry is 100% certain is abusing Christina.

And then, there is the titular book, a journal in which Henry has jotted down all of his seemingly six-figure treehouse Rube Goldberg designs and contraptions, so elaborate they would make Kevin McAllister from "Home Alone" (1990) salivate profusely, plus his even more elaborate plans to save Christina and take down Glenn Sickleman once and for all. 

Now, to a certain degree, what I have just described to you may not sound to be so downright awful. And truth be told, if the film just remained with those plot points, perhaps there could have been a way to make a story like this work. But...this is shockingly not all there is to "The Book Of Henry."

In addition to all that I have described, for whatever insane reasons, Trevorrow has also injected a terminal illness, financial wizardry, a school talent show complete with a solo dance routine (why not?) from Ziegler, a visit to a local, shady gun shop, a suicide, gentle sibling rivalry, an assassination attempt, and even Sarah Silverman as Watts' best friend from the diner...one who has clearly stumbled in from a completely different movie. To say that "The Book Of Henry" slapped me silly with jaw dropping disbelief would be an understatement. This thing is straight from the loony bin KA-RAZY!!!

Look, it would be one thing if Henry was gifted with numbers and mathematics but did he have to be a financial genius with a beyond expert's grasp of...Lord, help me...stocks and bonds (!), as he makes all of his wheelings and dealings from the pay phone (!!) located across the street from the school? It would be one thing if Henry was presented as somewhat of a savant or someone who was just pre-naturally wise. But, Henry possesses a level of foresight within this film that is supernatural. I mean--even Dionne Warwick couldn't have known all of the things that Henry is astoundingly able to know the longer this film progresses. "The Book Of Henry" truly contains the "and then this happened" syndrome to the point where the movie as a whole defies all sense of logic, reason, rationality, believability and therefore, any sense of empathy that Trevorrow and his cast are indeed working overtime to try and convey.

Honestly, I do have to hand it to both Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay for trying their best to make heads or tails from this, as they are each gifted young actors as evidenced from Lieberher's work in Theodore Melfi's "St. Vincent" (2014), Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special" (2016) and Andy Muschietti's "It" (2017) as well as Tremblay's especially powerful performances in both Lenny Abrahamson's "Room" (2015) and Stephen Chbosky's "Wonder" (2017). Miraculously, they both attempt to find a sliver of honest emotion and realism within a film that possesses none of such things. Yet, unfortunately, out of the young cast, only Maddie Ziegler suffers, as she is obviously acting by hairstyle--behind the ears when she is feeling OK, draped completely over her face if she is depressed. Not a terribly good look if this is the film's damsel in distress.

But honestly, Naomi Watts should have known better! Did she lose a bet too? I just cannot believe for a moment that she actually believed in this story! Well, in fairness, maybe she did initially. But, good night nurse, during filming as she is brandishing a sniper rifle, didn't it occur to her that something was seriously amiss. Even her character as conceived is a major problem as she does indeed treat Henry more like a husband than as her 11 year old boy genius son, a family situation when pondered more closely, seems even creepier than the possible goings on next door.

Colin Trevorrow's "The Book Of Henry" is a soft hearted disaster of a movie that just never knows when to quit. Or better yet, it didn't know better than to scrap everything, just start over and make a  better film. That is not to say that this movie is unwatchable. Trust me, it has to be seen to be believed.

But even so, I cannot help but to wonder if this was the reason that Trevorrow lost out the lucrative gig of directing "Star Wars: Episode IX."   Based on "The Book Of Henry," we really dodged a bullet!

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