|Even the poster looks like it's about to Magic-Pretension all over the sheets.|
On occasion (and it seems as if the last time this happened was a mere six months ago with Collateral Beauty), Hollywood gives us a 'WHAT THE S***, HOLLYWOOD?' product. And it doesn't have to be something that is some mega-budget thing, though that can happen and one can see why something that costs over a hundred (maybe two hundred) million dollars that has a laughably terrible script has to keep rumbling along to completion and release.
What becomes mind-boggling and unbelievable is when it's at the mid-budget level - and, invariably, I'll see a mid-budget movie now almost on principle, to do what I can to keep this dying breed of movie-budgeted film going on. Actually, less than two months ago we got The Circle, which was its own stock of stupid, but The Book of Henry is one of those astonishing embarrassments that I want to apologize to the makers of that movie for my hasty review. At least that had some good scenes; Book of Henry is obnoxious and sounds off its sense of itself, like an intellectual proudly squeezing off a fart (y'know, for existentialism!) from nearly the beginning.
The movie is sort of in two halves; the first gets us to see the World According to Henry, an 11 year old Boy Genius (Lieberher) who knows everything - including how to get mucho bank with the stock market (!) seemed to go to the school of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as far as children in movies who don't talk like actual children except this is how screenwriters think "different" children sound (and at least, and I can't believe I have to defend EL&IC in my comparison, that kid was on the spectrum, this kid is just... uh, one of those Boy Geniuses movies come up with to be "twee").
He runs everything in the house - where's dad? who knows, who cares, he's not a thing, that's all there is - including looking after his mother (Watts, who does the best she can) and her brother (Tremblay, a strange reuniting after last year's almost equally bad Shut In) who really shouldn't need looking after but... don't get me started on that yet. The point is Henry happens to see across from his house to the one next door that a girl about his age is being abused (sexually or not? who cares, it could be both, but let's be vague) by town Police Commissioner Dean Norris, and tries to report it to child services, but the man is brother with Norris so that's a no-go. What to do? He can't be apathetic, as he tells his mother at a key point, which I'll get back to if I can still type without my fingers falling off from profuse bleeding after typing so rigorously.
Anyhow, I can't get into this without revealing a key spoiler (which I can't recall if the trailer revealed, I shouldn't bother as a PSA to you all, but I'll be kind): Henry dies of a brain tumor - one of those convenient ones that, despite Henry's own terminology not matching up to how *science actually works*, since this is a boy genius character written by someone who doesn't research things for plot contrivance sake - but he has a plan. He's written everything down and left a series of audio cassette tapes (because it's not like this script wasn't written in the 90s oh no wait it was) for his mother because it's time for her to fulfill his 'Make a Wish Foundation' request: kill the next-door neighbor Dean Norris because of his abusing his daughter and no one being able to stop him. So through his coursebook and through a wildly ludicrous series of recordings that literally direct the mother through town (and in the woods via where the kids' treehouse is or whatever) and sync up even down to her taking a wrong turn on a street or going up to an ATM or a gun shop or or.... the point is, this movie is stupid.
How stupid is it, I can hear the audience asking. It's the kind of work that I could pick apart for days through the countless logic gaps, the ways the story has to contort itself to make sense of how people act - and a good lot of the time not how people act (even down to small things like how Sarah Silverman's friend waitress of Watts still talks in a tone that's joking even while her friend is *being fired basically*) - but what's frustrating the most, unlike a Collateral Beauty which was more-so offensive on a whole other level to people dealing with things like grief, is that it had potential. The movie takes a cue from Rear Window as far as a kid and then the mother (not the younger brother, he's basically ignorant for the better) look across to see flashes of the daughter being... is it hit? Raped? It's a PG-13 so it's not graphic of course, but clearly enough is seen to have the director, Colin Trevorrow, to show the boy and mother's faces at different times look horrified. But this approach robs the audience of actually getting to *know* who the people next door are and, for better and/or worse, we never do.
Aside from something like, say, wasting the talent that Dean Norris has shown he has in spades on Breaking Bad, Hurwitz and company could've gone the American Beauty route which, however you feel about how that deals with things, at least shows us what the f***ed up family next door is like (the son in that story is also abused by his father). I had heard going in to the movie there was a "twist" and a pretty terrible one at that - not the content of it, just that it existed - and what I thought the movie was going for, or perhaps a movie with a higher IQ could've attempted, was to show that perhaps, just maybe, everything that Smart-Ass-Hell Henry and mother saw wasn't really happening; this might've taken some tweaking in a couple of scenes, but not much, and ironically whatever abuse seems to be happening to the daughter we don't see it, there's no bruises visible, she only looks... sad, as if countless girls don't look that way in adolescence. So then in a way this ties in well to the message that is conveyed earlier in the film, where we see Henry and Mom at a grocery store where a man is practically hitting his girl and Henry asks for someone to stop it and the Mom says to mind their own business.
I'm not saying apathy is the way to go generally speaking in society, I'm referring to how this movie treats its particular characters, and the idea that this son and mother are looking in on people they don't *really* know (in part because the writer never gets us to know them, by design or by accident), and basically the movie ends up painting Norris's Police Commiss Glen as a creep, but one without any dimension at all - he's just the "thing" that needs to be wiped out. It's simplistic and reduces things to levels that are so basic.
Aside from this, Hurwitz has so many laughable scenes even outside of when Henry is "directing" his mother (why she obeys from the start is crazy)... like when, just after Henry first sees young Christina abused at night, we cut right into him storming into the *principle's office* asking about why all his letters and calls about the abuse haven't been answered, and she gives some kind of answer and then he responds and back and forth as if this was written by a robot thinking this is how human beings talk. WHAT?! And how much time has passed with his letter writing/calls? What is *going on* with this anti-masterpiece of contrivance that is the writing of this kid?
It's not to say this has the quality-level of incompetently made dreck like a Neil Breen movie or something. It's actually frustrating in a different way because of all the talent assembled and that, whether they believed in this project from the start or not, people like Watts and Tremblay and even Silverman to an extent commit to their roles, wherever they go (I want to say the same for Norris but, again, he's so underutilized I just felt sorry for him).
But near the end, when the "plan" gets put into action do things get especially hackneyed, and this is already following that mid-section where, for at least a little while, it has the emotional substance of My Sister's Keeper. There's a final "twist" that, to some, may seem somehow perfectly logical, but a) it's not, b) it's *really* not, given so much that has happened already or not been revealed, and c) the catalyst for this particular character to suddenly change her mind is really stupid (and I'm not talking about Watts's Mom, though her own moment is inane as well). By the end of what has come from a script that has so, so, so many problems is something that feels, like so much other Hollywood glop, is all tied up and back in order and so on.
This movie is kind of a disaster, the likes of which where you wonder how so many people got together, not the least of which (probably most of all) the director who chose *this*, a script that had been either sitting around or at best floating around for 20 years, as his follow-up to the (barely) passable Jurassic World. I don't know what's to come of his Star Wars Episode 9, but one can't help but feel like he's failing upward here.