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The Book of Henry is the latest film from Jurassic World and Safety Not Guaranteed director Colin Trevorrow and tells the story of a mom and her two young sons, Peter and the genius Henry, and their adventures as a family. When the literal “girl next door” appears to be in trouble from her step-dad and sole guardian, Henry sets a plan in motion to try and save her. This film stars Jaeden Liberher, Naomi Watts, Jacob Tremblay, Lee Pace, Maddie Ziegler, and Dean Norris.

Over the past few days, critics have savaged this movie. On the aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, The Book of Henry bears a paltry 25% approval rating and a 4.3/10 average. I am not a contrarian and I don’t write this with that intent at all: The Book of Henry is one of my favorite films of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever been as confused at a critical reaction to a film as I am with this one.

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The positives with The Book of Henry are plentiful, to say the least. I think what really connected with me most in this film was Colin Trevorrow’s vision and his clear connection to an era of films that moved me emotionally. The Amblin productions and their progeny are clearly influential on what Trevorrow does here. This should come as no surprise to anyone that saw Jurassic World. Trevorrow idolizes Spielberg and knows how to homage the spirit of his films in a way that feels genuine. It really works here. This film stepped out of the mold of a basic Amblin pastiche, and is incredibly original and goes places I would never have imagined. It understood its heart and was genuinely touching, but it also had a powerfully rich darkness that made this world feel much deeper and well developed than we would have seen in a lesser film.

I want to really spotlight Jaeden Lieberher. As the titular Henry, Lieberher not only shines, but he out-acts every single person in this film by a wide margin (including two-time Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts). At points in this film, he plays the thankless role of the “precocious” 12 (pardon me, 11) year old with grace and incredible skill. At other points, he has an incredibly different and challenging role to play (especially for a person of his age) and he does it with a brilliance I haven’t seen from many actors ever. I was blown away by him in this and it certainly is my favorite lead performance of the year.

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The other performers are solid to serviceable. Naomi Watts and Sarah Silverman do everything asked of their characters effectively. Lee Pace was unrecognizable in a good way. Dean Norris . . . well, he’s the Dean Norris we all know and love. He’s not stretching at all here, but he plays the role you hire Dean Norris to play. Maddie Ziegler was also serviceable. She had a tough job being part of a trio of kids that included Tremblay and Lieberher though.

Finally on the positive side of things, the film made me feel something in ways almost no other film has in 2017. Some films have a cinematic “X-Factor” for viewers that makes them connect with it on a deeper level than other films for almost no explainable reason. The Book of Henry certainly has this secret ingredient for me. This film literally made me laugh, cry, and bite my nails. I was enthralled by the story Trevorrow was telling and he puppeteered me, as an audience member, in brilliant ways that made me feel in ways only good storytellers can achieve. This is the most genuine reason I loved this movie the way I did, and why I think this is one of the best films of the year.

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The Book of Henry isn’t a flawless masterpiece though. There are some features of the ending that were a bit of a letdown. I also think that there are things about this film that won’t land with some people. You have to connect to this family and their lives early on. If you don’t, some of the events later in the film might lack the resonance that they had for a viewer like myself. Finally, there was a bit too much going on in this film. There were many different sub-plots that were hard to keep up with, and few of them were resolved. There were moments where it almost felt scatter-brained with different characters having all sorts of different problems. At the end of the day, I don’t really know why Sarah Silverman’s character was in this film, for example. Her plot line barely effects the main plot and, save for a couple of character development moments, she adds very little (and adds actually nothing to the core plot).

Overall, I adored The Book of Henry. This is my favorite film from Colin Trevorrow and my second favorite film of the year. I’ve been waiting all year to have a reaction like this to a film, and I’m happy that I had that chance and was undeterred by the poor press. This is definitely a film to go check out for yourself and make up your mind. Is it possible you won’t like it? I suppose. It’s not perfect and maybe you’ll latch on to a negative that will spoil it for you. Or, maybe, you will be put off by the wildly shifting tone. If you are hit just right by this film, however, I can attest that it will be one of the most joyous and heartbreaking experiences in a cinema you will get this year.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10 

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About the Author
Author: Ryan McKenna