The Book of Henry

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Book of Henry Movie Poster Image
Muddled dramedy deals with dark, disturbing topics.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 11 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive messages

The movie's tone and messages are muddled; it deals with hard topics like abuse, death, and grief but doesn't offer clear take-aways around these themes.

Positive role models & representations

Susan is a warm and loving mother, and the depth of feeling she displays for her son and a foster daughter is compelling. But since she shows that she's willing to literally commit murder at her son's direction, she's hardly a positive role model. Christina is portrayed as a distressed damsel, waiting passively for rescue.

Violence

No blood or gore, but plenty of disturbing imagery. A child has two seizures, spends time in a hospital bed with bandages and tubes, and ultimately dies in his mother's arms as his mother and brother cry over him. A young boy hatches elaborate plans to commit a murder; his mother decides to follow those plans, buying a gun with the intent of killing her neighbor. A man commits suicide off screen; viewers hear a gunshot and are told he's killed himself. It's said that a man is molesting his 12-year-old stepdaughter, but it's not shown; instead, viewers see a sad young girl who crouches terrified beside her bedroom door at night.

Sex

An adult woman visits a 12-year-old boy in the hospital and kisses him full on the lips after he tells her he thinks she's pretty. 

Language

Strong language includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "ass," "hell," "goddamn," and "pr--k." Two young boys show their mother how to flip someone the bird. 

Consumerism

One character uses a laptop with the Apple logo visible; Volvo appears.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Two women drink wine until they're giggly and silly; a character drinks to excess and misses work the next day. 

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.

User Reviews

Adult Written byMel6 June 17, 2017

We Need More of These Movies....

This movie was charming, adventurous, and successfully dealt with heavy topic without ONCE revealing the topic to youngsters, while getting the message across t... Continue reading
Adult Written byRandy T. June 29, 2017

Wishing professional critics could watch movies for enjoyment and not just for dissection...

My wife and I went to see "The Book of Henry" in spite of the many bad reviews. Needless to say we were once again amazed that the critics missed a g... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byNZkool19 June 17, 2017

Heavy themes

I loved this movie I gave it 16 and up because the overall theme of the movie is upsetting a boy dies and his mother pulls off his plan to murder his neighbors... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCalifeet June 18, 2017

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 ...

  • Families can talk about The Book of Henry's violence. How does the lack of gore affect how you feel about what you see on scree? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • 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. 

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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