'The Book of Henry' Review: Boy Meets Girl, Ends Up in WTF Tearjerker-Thriller

Story of a single mom, her genius son, the girl next door and her abusive dad starts strong – then turns into a cinematic disaster

'The Book of Henry' starts strong, flirts with absurdity in the middle – and ends up as a cinematic disaster. Read our one-and-a-half-star review.

Question: How do you deal with a bad movie made with complete and utter sincerity? Answer: Better than you do with cynical product solely motivated by box office. The Book of Henry starts well, begins flirting with absurdity in the middle – and ends in crashing disaster. But the feeling persists that director Colin Treverrow believes every word in the shambles of a 20-year-old screenplay by crime novelist Gregg Hurwitz.

To avoid explicit plot spoilers, in the improbable case that you can't see them coming, here are the basics: Naomi Watts, a plus in any movie, stars as Susan Carpenter, a waitress and single mom to 11-year-old genius Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) and his kid brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). While mom plays violent video games and booze-talks her issues with a sassy co-worker (Sarah Silverman), Henry shields his younger sibling from bullies and builds the family a solid stock portfolio. But the boy's passion project is protecting his neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), from her abusive stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris), who happens to be the police commissioner. Henry writes his plans on how to kill this monster of a man in a book, just in case something terrible happens to him.

Of course, it does. At which point the movie seesaws between dying-child tearjerker and WTF crime thriller, sparked by Henry's taped messages that seem ready with just the right answers every time mom hits the play button. What's amazing is how the excellent Watts and Lieberher (costars in the Bill Murray vehicle St. Vincent) don't get sucked down in the quicksand. ) don't get sucked down in the quicksand. Treverrow has a way with actors that he demonstrated beautifully in his 2012 feature debut Safety Not Guaranteed, a time-travel fantasy that marked an auspicious indie debut. Since then, he's directed one blockbuster (2015's Jurassic World) and is about to embark on Star Wars: Episode IX. Even in the mess of conflicting ideas that is The Book of Henry, you still get a sense of the childlike wonder that drives Treverrow to tell stories. It's a rare gift, and something to help him survive calamitous setbacks like this one.