You don’t see ‘The Book of Henry,’ ‘The Book of Henry’ sees you
The must-see movie of the summer doesn’t have big explosions, a built-in franchise audience or any superhero outfits. It’s not even a good movie. But it needs to be seen, and deserves an audience, if only so a group of people can collectively ask, “did that just happen?”
The movie is “The Book of Henry,” and yes, that just happened. Watching it unfold is like being whacked in the head with an aluminum bat and trying to regain your senses. Is Naomi Watts really playing video games and leaning her body towards the television like a third-grader? Is Sarah Silverman really flirting with an 11-year-old? Did that kid really just burp the alphabet at his school’s talent show?
Yes, yes and yes. And those aren’t even close to the craziest things that happen in the movie.
There are plenty of bad movies out there, and since it’s summertime, there are more bad movies than usual clogging up multiplex screens. Movies like “Rough Night” and “Transformers: Once More With Feeling” fall under the simply bad category; they’re movies that don’t add anything to the conversation, they only take away. They’re wrenching, soul-draining experiences. They hurt.
Then there’s “The Book of Henry,” which is a special kind of bad. It’s so bad it’s unbelievable how bad it is, and its badness becomes entertaining — more entertaining than most movies we’d commonly refer to as “good” movies. You know “The Room,” the Tommy Wiseau movie that is always playing at midnight screenings and getting crowds to howl along at how bad it is? That’s the good kind of bad, and “The Book of Henry” is destined for a similar fate.
In some circles, the kind of good-bad space that “The Book of Henry” and “The Room” exist inside is referred to as a “guilty pleasure,” but I’ve never subscribed to the guilty pleasure theory. If something gives you pleasure, what is there to feel guilty about? And if we only derive pleasure from things that are considered “good” or are popularly agreed upon as being good, life would be pretty boring, and most reality TV franchises would be out of business.
We need the bad to balance out the good. What is good if there’s no bad? And why didn’t the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” film inspire this level of thought?
There’s no exact formula for when something is so bad it becomes good, but you know it when you see it. And “The Book of Henry” is it.
In “Henry,” Naomi Watts plays Susan Carpenter, mother to two young boys, Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) and Peter (Jacob Tremblay of “Room,” not to be confused with “The Room”). Henry is a genius-type who handles all the family’s finances and has wisely invested the money his mother has earned at her waitress gig. Susan leans on her child in ways that actually make her a really bad parent, but the movie treats everything that’s happening as normal.
Next door to the Carpenters, Glenn Sickleman (“Breaking Bad’s” Dean Norris) lives with his stepdaughter, Christina (Maddie Ziegler). Through his bedroom window, Henry sees what he believes is evidence that Glenn is abusing Christina, but no one will listen to Henry’s accusations because Glenn is the police commissioner and is viewed as an all-around good guy. So Henry for real devises a plot to kill the police commissioner, and soon his mother is trotting through the woods behind their house with a military grade assault rifle at her side trying to lure him into her scope. The movie is that bonkers.
To say much more would be to spoil the experience of letting “The Book of Henry” unfold in front of you, but it’s full of so much insanity that even after seeing it you won’t entirely believe it. You could compile a list of 40 “huh?” moments in “The Book of Henry” and still not have a complete documentation of its ineptitude. (Here’s a big one: the movie’s director, Colin Trevorrow, is on board to direct “Episode IX” in the “Star Wars” franchise. Yikes!)
“The Book of Henry” isn’t exactly burning up the box office; last weekend it opened at No. 13 with a paltry $1.4 million. It won’t be around in theaters for too much longer. But it must be seen. In a summer marked by duds, “The Book of Henry” is the best dud of them all.