Punching Henry

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Punching Henry Movie Poster Image
Glum but smart comedy has some mature material.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 98 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Perseverance is key, even if you've already spent years following your dreams and seem to have made little progress toward achieving your goals. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Henry is likable and endearing but also easy to dismiss as a sad-sack loser. It's true that his life seems to be one long exercise in futility, but behind all his tales of woe is a decent, kind man who refuses to give up on achieving his dream and refuses to sell out. 


Heated discussions. 


A very awkward sex scene has no graphic nudity -- but also zero eroticism or chemistry. Lots of talk about how, when, and where the male partner ejaculates. 


Frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "bitch," "a--hole," etc.


A few products are seen and/or mentioned, notably iPhone and Uber. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking by adults. Several scenes take place in bars and nightclubs and show people drinking. One pivotal sequence features a joint, though nobody is actually seen smoking it. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Punching Henry offers a not-so-glamorous look at the life of a stand-up comedian: the dingy motels, the hecklers, the underpaid gigs, and everything else that Henry Phillips endures as he tries to make it in a very tough business. Expect some drinking and drug references, an extremely awkward sex scene (no graphic nudity) and sex talk, and quite a bit of swearing ("s--t," "f--k" and more). But the biggest thing to be aware of about this "comedy" is the unrelenting sense of gloom as Henry suffers one mishap after another. It would be enough to make a lesser man quit and go home, but the strength of the film comes from the main character's ability to endure and push on -- and his perseverance might be a good example for older teens. 

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What's the story?

In PUNCHING HENRY, stand-up comic Henry Phillips (playing a version of himself) bills himself as a "rambling troubadour extraordinaire" who's spent years on the road singing hilarious, self-deprecating songs about the many, many mishaps he seems to endure. And it's not exactly an act; he actually does stumble into one calamity after another. Finally on the verge of getting his big break, Henry comes to Los Angeles, where a TV producer (J.K. Simmons) wants to make him the star of a reality show. The question is whether Henry can endure all the trials and tribulations that go into selling the show -- and whether he's willing to put up with the network's increasingly debasing demands. Tig Notaro co-stars as a longtime friend who lets Henry crash on her sofa. 

Is it any good?

Like a comic bit that takes its time to unfurl, this movie requires commitment: It doesn't so much punch as dwell, with its quirky, interesting humor making itself known -- and felt -- by the minute. As such, Punching Henry is an acquired taste. It's a bit befuddling at first -- why are we watching this guy go about this life, seemingly hapless? -- but it builds to a fairly satisfying ending. Phillips is the straight man with the punchline, a sad-sack who's the object of his own jokes day after day (bad things just keep happening to him). But he's also the mastermind behind them, going about his life the way he does, willing to participate in its nuttiness and also not going with it -- as if he's not in control when really he is. (Isn't that the way it is for most of us?) He's perfect. 

Still, Punching Henry feels more like, yes, a bit than an actual movie, and though that's the film's charm, it's also its downfall. The audience needs more than a bit -- or else we may end up asking ourselves: Why are we watching this guy, again?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Punching Henry portrays the business side of reality TV. What did you learn about how a new show is created? Does it look more like art, business, or something else?

  • Would you say Henry is a success? How has he been rewarded for following his dream, year after year? How does he demonstrate perseverance? Why is that an important character strength?

  • This movie is a comedy, but it's not always funny. Does that matter? What are some different types of humor/comedy?

Movie details

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