By Laurie Coker
Certainly, there are methods for stretching the truth and still creating a story that is at its core believable and engaging. The Book of Henry engages, but more because of its cast than its tale. Director Colin Trevorrow and writer Gregg Hurwitz play on every emotion possible but go far beyond the simple story of a unique and contemporary family. Heart-wrenching at times and seriously implausible at others, The Book of Henry harbors some quality themes – wrapped up in a stock fairytale of sorts – and its players make the film worth a look.
Eleven-year-old Henry Carpenter played beautifully by Jaeden Lieberher, is a boy beyond exceptional, who lives with his waitress mother, Susan (Naomi Watts) and his precious little brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Precocious Henry invents, does his family’s finances, invests in the stock market and moons over his pretty next-door neighbor who has a dark secret. Equally menacing, however, is the tumor settled inside Henry’s head. Once the youngster realizes his days are numbered, he creates a plan to save the girl and set his family up for life after Henry – including financial and emotional stability.
Credit needs to be given to Trevorrow for fashioning a pretty film filled with rich characters and beautiful imagery, even if Hurwitz’s story plays on the absurd and rudimentary. Lieberher makes Henry believable and sympathetic and Watts plays beautifully beside him. Little Tremblay is adorable beyond words – perhaps too much so, but the family relationship pleases. Comedian Sarah Silverman, as a plucky, boozing waitress and friend offers some oddly placed comedic relief and Lee Pace steps up as the film’s Knight as Henry’s extraordinarily compassionate neurosurgeon. They make the film magical even if the story pushes boundaries.
There are two plots in The Book of Henry – one within his head and home and the other plays out with the creepy neighbor, Glenn Sicklman (Dean Norris) and his stepdaughter, Christina (Maddie Zeigler) – neither is particularly fresh. The film is a bit of an anomaly – one that borders on special and somehow manages to go too far and stay too simple. As a result, I can recommend the film and offer up a C+/B- grade, but I know it won’t please everyone.