The Book of Henry may have the worst script I’ve ever seen. It’s fucking terrible and you can constantly feel how clever the screenwriter thinks he is. It’s like he took one screenwriting class and instead of his teacher telling him to burn the script and never show it to anyone, he high fived himself while jerking off and got it made into a Hollywood movie.
So, the set-up: Henry is an impossibly smart (basically actually omniscient) 11 year old kid who likes to build Rube Goldberg machines. You know he’s smart because he beats the lunch lady at checkers and handles his mother’s financial records while she plays Gears of War, and day trades outside his school while talking about how glad he is to have been born into a bull market. Naomi Watts plays his Mom, who’s a pretty normal single mother diner waitress. For some reason the movie treats her playing Gears and drinking with her co-worker, Sarah Silverman, interchangeably which is weird. Also Henry has a little brother who’s a normal dumb kid. He gets picked on,when Henry turns his back on him for like 5 seconds. Whatever.
It’s hard to convey just how bad the dialogue is and how insufferable Henry is. He’s just not a human character. He makes Elijah Wood in North look like a normal kid. He’s like a tiny 45 year old man who needs to be tucked in by his mom and is also Jesus.
Naomi Watts is actually… great in this movie. Considering the garbage script she has to work with she does an incredible job. I feel like she deserves some award that doesn’t exits for giving your all in a terrible movie. (Last year I would have given that award to Kevin Spacey in Nine Lives) Also the filmmaking in general is… fine. Adequate. The soundtrack is terrible, but that basically fits with this garbage movie, increases the charm a bit even. This isn’t a movie like Maximum Ride where the terrible acting, effects and direction are what make it amazing. This is a competently made movie built around just the worst script. Just putrid.
Now I can’t really get across how insane this movie is without going through the beats of the plot. And if I’m gonna start doing that I might as well go all the way so that will be on the next page. But here are some final thoughts.
There are at least like 3 movies here taking their own turns at the wheel, and in the end the whole thing plays out kind of like an insane Rube Goldberg machine. The movie ends up being such a convoluted mess that it actually fails at having a moral, which is definitely in it’s favor for my enjoyment. I don’t know how people decided this was an ok movie to make and release and I don’t know what the fucking point of it was. But I certainly wasn’t bored. This one will stick with me. I’ve been complaining about some movies not being bad enough, well these guys nailed it, so I kind love this movie for that. Every piece is so on the nose, crass, stupid, and completely pleased with itself. Although the fact that there was some teenage girl unironically clapping at the end makes me ill because this is such garbage.
Further evidence that the proclamations about the death of the Good Bad Movie have come premature.
Ok, so the first thing is that Henry is aware, and has been aware for some time, that his neighbor from his class is being abused by her step-father, Dean Norris, who she lives alone with. It’s never clear if this is just physical abuse or if it’s also sexual, the movie isn’t raw enough to actually show anything, to the point where I wouldn’t blame a viewer from wondering if Henry was actually wrong about what was going on. When we see Henry spying on his neighbor it seems like he’s just learning about it in the moment, but then he gets mad in class, bursts into the principal’s office and starts yelling about why hasn’t anything been done yet like he’s a TV police officer mad about the red tape of bureaucracy. And then Henry starts making plans to deal with it himself, because apparently no one takes child abuse cases seriously. The step-father’s the chief of police and his brother is the head of child services so there’s a conspiratorial shield around him or whatever.
Also its' a story about child abuse that’s about a boy reacting to a girl being abused, while the girl is barely a character She has like 5 lines in the movie even though the entire pot revolves around her situation. So that’s movie One.
We also get a subplot about Sarah Silverman’s alcoholism in there that never comes up again, but the movie also establishes weird sexual tension between her and Henry as they aggressively insult each other. May I remind you that Henry is eleven; although the movie keeps insisting that he’s actually almost 12.
Movie two is that Henry has terminal brain cancer and let me tell you, this is the funnest scene of a child learning he has terminal cancer I’ve ever seen. Again Henry isn’t just a smart kid, he’s basically all-knowing so while the doctor tries to explain the brain tumor to him like he was a child, he hijacks the conversation and starts self diagnosing, including demanding the MRI so he can look at it. You can see the expression in the doctor’s face going “Oh, I though I was talking to a child, not a caricature written by a shitty screenwriter. I’m so sorry, I apologize.”
It’s also here that we get the conclusion of that sexual tension between Henry and Sarah Silverman where he explains that they insult each other because of an innate attraction. My joke here was “And then they fuck” but then she actually leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. So that happened.
Yea, so then Henry dies of Brain cancer. Like halfway through the movie he’s dead.
Movie three is Naomi Watts getting Henry’s red book, which is his very detailed plan for why Dean Norris needs to die and a step by step plan for how to murder him.
Yup. That’s… that’s where this movie goes. And really it’s a testament to what an insane mess this movie is that you almost actually believe Naomi Watts in going to murder a man. The only reason I was sure that wasn’t going to happen is because that movie actually wouldn’t get made.
Henry not only leaves detailed instructions that anticipate every thought his Mom will have, he also left a tape recorded with step by step instructions for her that happen in real time. At this point Henry is actually just an omniscient ghost. And he set all this up while sneaking out of the hospital after his brain tumor had been operated on. He does a bunch of call and response: he tells he to go right and then she goes left and he says “your other right.”
Henry is an omniscient child who hates apathy and solves all his problems through Rube Goldberg devices and his last one involves him instructing his mother to kill a man from beyond the grave.
Of course she doesn’t actually murder anyone, but she get’s all the way to luring him out into the woods and aiming the sniper rifle at his skull, before a Rube Goldberg machine that she accidentally trips and starts gets her to change her mind and not kill a person.
Instead the power of interpretive dance saves the day. I’m not joking.
So Naomi Watts burns the book at the end and now has to live the rest of her life knowing that her dead 11 year old son tried to talk her into murdering a human. Yaaaaaaaaay!
Honestly I was booing (Quietly to myself, I’m not a monster) when she didn’t just shoot that asshole, but it’s fine, this movie isn’t cool enough for that. Also he then shoots himself because narrative convenience and simplicity, yaaaaaay!
So yeah, I was not bored at this movie. I had a good time at this awful garbage movie. I recommend it to anyone who has a place in their heart for garbage awful movies. It… it’s a thing. That’s for sure.