This affecting film about a superintelligent suburban kid and his loving family goes totally bonkers midway through when it morphs into a bizarre revenge scheme guided from beyond the grave. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
The first half of “The Book of Henry” is like an acting master class conducted by Naomi Watts. In the role of a suburban single mother of two young boys, she brings emotional precision and great depth of feeling to her portrayal of a character who is by turns wise, funny, loving, self-doubting and later shattered by grief.
No slouch either in the performance arena is Jaeden Lieberher, who plays the title character. Henry is an 11-year-old superkid of a kind only found in movies: able to handle his mother’s investments like Warren Buffett, to self-diagnose a malignant medical condition like a top-flight neurosurgeon, to protect his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay) like a guardian angel and, above all, to serve as a rock of stability and common sense for his emotionally fragile mom.
Small wonder she challenges her best girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) to “find me another male of the species who is more grown up than him.” Can’t be done.
Movie Review ★★
‘The Book of Henry,’ with Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Maddie Ziegler, Dean Norris. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, from a screenplay by Gregg Hurwitz. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. Several theaters.
A lesser actor could easily have made the lad insufferable, but Lieberher brings a disarming poise to his work that somehow makes the kid endearing yet not cloying. Though he skates right up to the edge in a scene where, a stickler for linguistic precision, he corrects an adult who calls him “brilliant” by saying, “I prefer precocious.”
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Director Colin Trevorrow (working from a script by Gregg Hurwitz), who put himself on the map with “Jurassic World,” turns the movie’s first half into an affecting character study as Henry and his mother wrestle with the issue of how to deal with suspected child abuse involving a next-door girl classmate (Maddie Ziegler) and her sinister stepfather (Dean Norris). But then fate in the form of a dire medical condition intervenes. And what has been a well-crafted tearjerker proceeds to go flat-out bonkers.
The book of the title is revealed to be an instruction manual written by Henry that sets in motion a remote-control revenge scheme guided from beyond the grave.
To give away any more would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that when that happens, “The Book of Henry” launches itself into cloud cuckooland and never returns to Earth.