Fa­tally flawed

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

THE BOOK OF HENRY Di­rected by Colin Trevor­row. Star­ring Naomi Watts, Jae­den Lieber­her, Ja­cob Trem­blay, Sarah Sil­ver­man, Lee Pace, Mad­die Ziegler, Dean Nor­ris. Cert 12A, gen re­lease, 105mins

Henry Car­pen­ter ( Lieber­her) lives in beautiful upstate New York with his lov­ing, videogame-play­ing sin­gle mom Su­san (Naomi Watts), and his ador­ing and adorable lit­tle brother Peter ( Room’s Ja­cob Trem­blay). The tit­u­lar 11-yearold is a boy ge­nius – he prefers “pre­co­cious” – who builds Rube Gold­berg con­trap­tions and who knows ev­ery­thing about stocks, bonds, psy­cho­an­a­lytic the­ory, and, when he is di­ag­nosed with a fa­tal brain tu­mour, neu­ro­surgery.

Henry’s dy­ing wish is that his mother fol­low the elab­o­rate in­struc­tions left in a red notebook, in­struc­tions that will al­low her to help the with­drawn and sex­u­ally-abused teenage girl next door. The girl’s preda­tory step­dad, in­con­ve­niently, hap­pens to be a po­lice chief (Dean Nor­ris). Her un­cle, in­con­ve­niently, hap­pens to be the head of child ser­vices.

The en­tirely and in­creas­ingly im­plau­si­ble plot makes for un­com­fort­able tonal swerves. Themes of child sex­ual abuse be­long in cor­us­cat­ing, prop­erly up­set­ting films like The

Si­lence (2010) or Michael (2011) or The Treat­ment (2014), and ought not to be utilised as mawk­ish plot points in whim­si­cal tales of wun­derkinds.

To be fair to Colin Trevor­row, it’s a brave choice of project for a di­rec­tor who finds him­self be­tween Juras­sic

World and Star Wars Episode IX. The filmmaker coaxes good per­for­mances from child stars Lieber­her and Trem­blay, and al­lows Watts’s char­ac­ter to drink wine, bitch with her boozy best pal (Sarah Sil­ver­man), swear, and mess up, while still be­ing a good mom.

Against this, ev­ery­thing else sounds a bum note. Where to be­gin? The con­vo­luted record­ing that al­lows Henry to talk to his mother long af­ter he is dead? The ap­pear­ance and reap­pear­ance of a dishy doc­tor? The school tal­ent show that dou­bles as a mur­der plot?

“Some­times a good story will re­mind you of who you want to be,” says Henry. Some­one watch­ing a dif­fer­ent movie?

Jae­den Lieber­her in The Book of Henry

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