[This post contains spoilers about The Book of Henry]
When I walked out of the theater after seeing The Book of Henry, which felt like it was too long yet also not long enough, I wanted to tell everyone about what I had just watched. Actually, “watched” is too weak of a word — about what I had just experienced. The thing is, I didn’t know where to begin.
How does one accurately summarize a movie where a precocious-yet-smug 11-year-old genius tries to protect his neighbor, whom he has a crush on, from her sexually abusive stepfather, who’s also the town’s police commissioner, so he devises a plan to kill him but before he can “rescue” her, the precocious, yet smug 11-year-old genius dies from a brain tumor, but he leaves behind a notebook and tape recorder with exact instructions for how his mom can murder the stepfather with a sniper during a talent show… all in one text? And that still leaves out the parts of the movie where Sarah Silverman-dressed-as-Amy Winehouse kisses a dying child on the mouth, and Naomi Watts (who goes along with her son’s plan after delivering the instantly immortal line, “We are not killing the police commissioner”) is briefly an alcoholic, and the climax is set to a montage of children burping, rapping, and dancing.
The Book of Henry is straight-up bonkers, and I loved it.
There’s a difference between a bad movie and a misguided movie. A bad movie is Baywatch, or Fifty Shades Darker, or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They’re genuinely boring and bland, a product of studio interference and/or indifference from the filmmakers. They’re made for everyone, and therefore no one. They exist to make money, not because they’re anyone’s passion project. But a misguided movie? That’s how you end up with something like The Room or Birdemic: Shock and Terror, instant Mystery Science Theater 3000 and bad movie podcast fodder that leaves viewers delighted in their bafflement. These are movies that play like they were written and directed by people who apparently had never seen a movie before. That’s The Book of Henry.