Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Book of Henry Review

I've had my eye on "The Book of Henry" for some time now. Not necessarily because I was extremely excited for it or that the trailers looked amazing, because that wasn't really the case. The reason I had my eye on this is because this is a movie that comes from director Colin Trevorrow, who has a very small sample size of directorial efforts which, outside a few small shorts, TV movies and documentaries, really only include "Safety Not Guaranteed" and "Jurassic World." Based on that alone, LucasFilm made the decision that he was worthy enough to direct Star Wars Episode IX. And I'm willing to bet that this was based solely on the fact that "Jurassic World" made a ton of money, because that movie is more dumb fun then epic. Not a worthy "Jurassic Park" successor. Consequently that hire made me really nervous, but since we've had such a small sample size of Trevorrow films, I really wanted to see what else the man could do before I make a determination on if I'm excited for his chapter of Star Wars, which is set to be the finale of our new trilogy. Enter "The Book of Henry." And oh my heck, red flags are now going up everywhere because "The Book of Henry" is a pretty big dumpster fire of a film that's gotten worse as I've pondered over it.

I watched an interview with Trevorrow about this film and what really stood out to me was that he has a strong passion and desire to bring the world some great original films. I have mad respect for this. And if you know me by now, you'll know that smaller independent films are the style of movie that I actually prefer over our big blockbusters because that's where the creativity and passion come in with movie making. The directors making these smaller films aren't guaranteed that they are going to make any money, so they're often filming with their hearts instead of filming with the studios breathing down their necks giving them certain mandates based on how the studio thinks they are going to make the most money, which can create all sorts of problems if the studio and director aren't on the same page. Thus a small film like "The Book of Henry" would show us what type of filmmaker Trevorrow is and I was crossing my fingers that this would be a great independent film that would be a good change of pace during our busy, blockbuster-heavy summer. But sometimes too much creativity can be a bad thing when you sacrifice things such as logic and common sense in favor of making a movie that you hope few people have done. That's what I feel happened here. 

Being that many of you may not have any idea what this movie is, allow me to describe by touching on elements from the first and third act of this movie. Oddly enough, it's the second act of the movie that is the major spoiler, so I will avoid that section because thankfully the marketing team did, too, so that middle portion was a huge surprise to me and I want to allow you to witness that surprise for yourself if you decide to be rebellious and actually see the film, which I won't recommend you do. Anyways, the setup for this movie centers around a super genius boy named Henry and his rather naive and uneducated mother. Even though she is an adult and he is a kid, mentally it's the other way around. She's the kid at heart who has no idea how to run a family or live a responsible, adult life while at just 11 years old, Henry knows essentially every detail of the world and is the one running the house, including making all of the financial decisions for everything. Then we have the younger brother played by the great young Jacob Tremblay who is just trying to be a normal kid, which is understandably difficult when you have a perfect older brother paving the way for you and a fairly irresponsible mother who is often not very good at being a mother.

This is actually a family dynamic that I mostly enjoyed. However, I think the movie got a little carried away with the role reversals of Henry and his mother. I think they could've written his mother like a struggling adult instead of a child in a grown up woman's body and I think they could've scaled Henry back a bit. Make him a gifted child, but go easy on his vast knowledge of things that no kid no matter how smart would know anything about. It took me out of the movie a bit during the first half of the movie. But I still was enjoying it as there was some true emotion displayed and some fantastic acting all around despite some cheesy writing and some not-so-great directing. And I was curious to see where they were going to take this. One of the unfortunate problems here that is out of the control of everyone around is that when I describe how I think this premise could've been refined to make it a special movie, I'm essentially describing the plot of the movie "Gifted" from two months ago. Since the release dates are this close, I'm guessing that Trevorrow and his crew had no idea about "Gifted" when they started writing, but strangely enough, both movies had a similar unique idea, but "Gifted" pulled it off so much better and released their movie first.

That's the unfortunate aspect of this movie. Trevorrow wanted to make a unique film and in the production of this movie, I'm certain that everyone involved thought this was an original idea, but the movie "Gifted" completely stole their thunder, thus the originality of the movie is no longer a strength and consequently they had to rely on the execution to make it great. The whole cast obviously did their absolute best to make this work, but the writing in this film is such a massive train wreck that the whole thing derails and left me cringing in my seat. As I've stated, I could probably forgive the cheesiness of the over-the-top role reversal if the direction this movie went was good, but that's not the case. And the eventual third act of the movie heavily involves the girl next door. I'm not going to give specific details or resolutions away, but Henry begins to have suspicions that his female crush from school, who is also his also his neighbor, is being abused by her father, who happens to be the well-respected chief police in town that everyone loves. If this child abuse angle is true and this man is covering up his tracks so well, how is an 11-year-old kid going to convince the world that a problem is going on when the girl herself will admit to nothing? 

These specifics are totally believable plot points. In theory, with a bit of refinement, this premise could work. But there comes a point in the movie where Henry makes a decision on what he is going to do about it and that's when the floor falls out. We eventually get to the point where the mother is listening to instructions from Henry on how to follow through with his plan and I practically had my hands in my face the whole time with how awful things get. Not scandalous, dirty or violent. But a horrendously written plot that had me embarrassed at what I was watching. I won't go any further on what happens next, but the movie shifted gears from family drama that I was enjoying to dark, intense crime thriller. The shift wasn't the problem, though. I was cool with that. But I love watching crime thrillers and I've watched so many good ones, which includes 12 seasons of "Criminal Minds," that I immediately know what to look for. I practically have it down to a science. And "The Book of Henry" breaks pretty much every rule of what NOT to do in crime thriller. I could detail this third act, but since I don't want to actual spoil the movie in this post, you're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's one of the worst crime thrillers that I've seen in a long time.

But credit has to be given where credit is due. Jaeden Lieberher is great as Henry. Naomi Watts is great is the mother. Jacob Tremblay nearly steals the show as the little brother. Sarah Silverman, Dean Norris and Lee Pace are fine, even though there is a horribly awkward scene between Sarah Silverman and Jaeden Lieberher. But who does steal the show for me is Maddie Ziegler, who made me practically jump out of my seat in excitement when her name came up in the opening credits. If you don't know Maddie, she is the stand-in for every Sia music video and even some live performances. Sia doesn't like showing her face, so she never shows up in her videos. But she has Maddie in every one of them. And by goodness can Maddie dance. She is able to successfully portray the emotion in Sia's songs through her dance skills and I love it. You can go watch the music video for "Chandelier" as a classic example. In this movie, Maddie plays the girl getting abused and although she doesn't say much, she gets the opportunity to express a high amount of emotion... through dance! I won't say how it connects to the plot, but there's a dance sequence that is integral to the plot where Maddie totally owns it! It almost made the whole movie worth it. 

Unfortunately, though, the rest of the movie did happen and it ended up being pretty bad. Had the final act of the movie been solid, I could've forgiven some of the cheesy moments in the first act or the awkward moments in the second act, but the third act was so bad that it made those moments even more glaring when I thought back on them. I love the intentions from Trevorrow, but the final result was bad. If you want a better version of this movie, go watch "Gifted." I loved that movie. But despite a great cast, this movie just doesn't work. So yes, this does make me mildly nervous about Star Wars Episode IX. If we need to drive home some emotion and have some powerhouse directing that will wrap up this new trilogy perfectly, I'm not so sure Trevorrow has the talents to pull it off. But luckily it's not just him working on it. It's a team project and LucasFilm has already shown just recently that if they don't like what a director is doing, they aren't afraid to step in or pull the plug on the directors. "Rogue One" had 40 percent of the movie re-shot last second and the directors for the Han Solo film were straight-up fired last week. So hopefully things work out. But as pertaining to "The Book of Henry," I was extremely disappointed and am giving the movie a 5/10.

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