The Book of Henry

The Book of Henry ★★★★

Jeez, from the reviews here on letterboxd you'd think this was the worst film ever to come down the pike. Well it isn't. I think the problem is that people are taking the story seriously, rather than as the children's moral fable it was meant to be (cf Stranger Things, an apt comparison.) So, 11 year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, great at playing weird as in last year's Midnight Special) is a super genius with psychic prophetic powers in the guise of a normal kid. He protects his diminutive younger brother (Jacob Tremblay, proving as he did in Room that he is an accomplished actor well beyond his years). But Henry is especially protective of his insecure mother (Naomi Watts) and a troubled young neighbor girl.

The plot is almost irrelevant, a series of contrivances adding up to a gifted child saves practically everybody even from his grave (oops! was that a spoiler? doesn't matter.) What makes this film special is the positive presentation of a uniquely tight-knit family. Naomi Watts is never better than when she is mothering gifted boys. Remember "Spiderman" Tom Holland playing her imperiled son in the tsunami film The Impossible? Watts has the rare gift of radiating maternal love without sentimentality.

Director Trevorrow uses a creepy synthesizer score by Michael Giacchino and an Oscar contender song (sung by Watts in the film and Stevie Nicks in the end credits) to add to the eerie unreality of the story. But it is his assured direction of the fine cast and sensitivity to the subtleties of family life that stood out for me. The film is something of a throwback tonally...sort of a modern day E.T. in feeling; but in this skeptical era, apparently a family oriented moral fable doesn't fly. I was moved and enthralled.