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The Book of Henry is crass, baffling, and ludicrous

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The Book of Henry

release date:
105 minutes
Naomi Watts, Jaeden Lieberher, Jacob Tremblay, Dean Norris
Colin Trevorrow
Focus Features
Current Status:
In Season

We gave it a D

Sometimes a movie comes along to remind us that Hollywood hasn’t run out of ideas — even if they’re crass, baffling, and ludicrous ones. In The Book of Henry, the titular hero (Jaeden Lieberher) is an 11-year-old prodigy who’s such a genius that he handles the family’s finances while his single mom (Naomi Watts) plays violent videogames. He also protects his younger brother (Jacob Tremblay) from schoolyard bullies, who spare Henry because, as they say, “You’re smart, at least.”

Then one night he witnesses his next-door crush (Maddie Ziegler) being molested by her stepfather (Dean Norris), and Henry enlists his mom to waste the bad guy. But long before Watts picks up a high-caliber sniper rifle to enact vigilante justice — seriously — the plot U-turns off a cliff in a clumsy attempt at Terms of Endearment-style pathos. Lieberher delivered such a nuanced performance in Midnight Special (ditto Tremblay, in Room) that The Book of Henry can (we hope) just be chalked up to a case of early-career hiccups.

Much more worrisome is the fact that the movie was made by Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, who’s directing Star Wars: Episode IX. Shiny dinosaurs apparently distracted most audiences from his lack of finesse and his dependence on character clichés: Vincent D’Onofrio’s “military baddie,” meet Norris’ “pedo next door.” Bryce Dallas Howard’s “sexy career girl,” meet Watts’ “waitress mom.” And Star Wars fans, meet your sense of grave concern. D