A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Book of Henry is a drama with very dark subject matter. A child gets sick and dies; he's shown in a hospital bed with tubes, having seizures, and dying in his mother's arms while family members cry over him. Plus, a boy makes an elaborate plan to commit murder, and his mother (Naomi Watts) ultimately decides to carry out the plan, going so far as to buy a gun and attempting to shoot her neighbor. A man kills himself off-screen; viewers hear the gunshot. A man is sexually abusing his sixth-grade stepdaughter; viewers see the girl's sad face and watch her crouching in her room at night. A woman visits a young boy in the hospital; after he tells her he thinks she's pretty, she gives him an inappropriate full-on-the-lips kiss. Two women drink wine until they're giggly and silly; one character drinks to excess and misses work. Cursing includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," and more, and two boys teach their mother how to flip the bird.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In the dark dramedy THE BOOK OF HENRY, Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher) is a precocious sixth-grade genius who lives with his single mom, Susan (Naomi Watts), and younger brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay). The kids at school don't like Henry much, but he's happy enough giving presentations on existential crises, rigging up elaborate contraptions in his forest playhouse with Peter, and pumping up his family's income by day trading. Then Henry notices that something terrible is happening between his wordless next-door neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), and her menacing stepdad, Glenn (Dean Norris) -- and he makes a plan to stop it.
Is it any good?
This genuinely odd movie is a mix of many tones and styles, shifting wildly from offbeat family comedy to dying-kid weepie to dark thriller within the space of its 100-minute running time. When viewers meet young Henry, a movie whiz-kid in the Little Man Tate mold, he's putting in a few stock trades before his mom picks him and his brother up from school in the family's blue Volvo. OK, you think, this is going to be a quirky-sweet family-against-the-odds comedy, the sort that Wes Anderson might make. But no. After doing several whimsical and (intended to be) enchanting things like cheering up a just-bullied Peter by staging an indoor snowstorm with styrofoam and a fan, Peter suddenly falls ill -- and Susan discovers that he's formulated a plan to murder their next door neighbor, Glenn ... a plan she ultimately decides to carry out for him.
If that sounds darned odd, it is. There's a world in which this plot could work, but this isn't it. Everything about this movie rings false, from Henry's outrageously elaborate steampunk playhouse (he built it when he was what? 10, 9, 8?) to his (supposed to be) picturesque creations. A young boy blows styrofoam all over the top floor of his house, and everyone thinks that's just great? Who's going to clean that up? Did the person who wrote this script never sweep? Also, distressingly, Christina is given no identity or role other than that of being a lovely, distressed damsel, waiting passively for rescue. Portraying this young girl as a symbol and a quest rather than a person is an iffy, regressive choice that may well make parents uncomfortable -- but it's just one of the many things they'll be uncomfortable with if they choose to watch Book of Henry with their kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Henry and Susan make dangerous, even illegal choices, but their goals are ultimately well-intentioned. Does that excuse what they do?
What kind of movie is this? Is it a drama? A comedy? A thriller? How can you tell? How does a movie communicate what emotions it hopes to inspire in viewers? Consider setting, music, characterization.
- In theaters: June 16, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: October 3, 2017
- Cast: Naomi Watts, Jacob Tremblay, Lee Pace
- Director: Colin Trevorrow
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and brief strong language
- Last updated: November 25, 2019
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