Single mother Susan Carpenter works as a waitress alongside her feisty family friend Sheila. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own way is Susan’s older son Henry. Protective of his brother and a tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother, Henry blazes through the days like a comet. When Susan discovers that the family next door harbors a dark secret, she’s surprised to learn that Henry has devised a plan to help the young daughter.
The Book Of Henry was a very interesting viewing experience for me. While I had a fun time watching this movie, there is one glaring problem that every critic that sees this movie is going to write at the top of their notepads. This film has what is probably the biggest tonal shift that I’ve ever seen. Not just one of these big jumps in tone but two during the duration of this film. These shifts are so drastic that if I were to describe the plot from start to finish to you it would be probably followed with laughter. I did have the honor of attending a Q & A with the director of the film Colin Trevorrow afterwards and he gave a reason to justify the tonal shift that I would like to share:
We as audiences have come to expect certain things and story structures from films and this might be the only way to genuinely surprise people.
The crazy thing is he might just be right. Have we become so used to the unwritten rules of story structure that this is only the to surprise us? I honestly think there are different ways to surprise audiences rather than just pulling the ground out from under them and shifting the tone so drastically. I will use Christopher Nolan and M. Night Shyamalan’s films as examples or even Scorsese’s Shutter Island comes to mind. Some crazy things happen in these films where the viewer is genuinely surprised. This to me shows that there are ways for this to be done, but Trevorrow might also have a point about how we’ve become accustomed to the same old story telling formula and how we are completely shocked when it is altered.
In some aspects that shouldn’t be ignored the movie does succeed. The movie is well acted and well directed. The set design is also something that I was very fond of. Jacob Tremblay, and believe it or not Sarah Silverman were the standouts to me in a very talented cast featuring Naomi Watts. However some characters feel pointless and never really make any real impact on the story. Sarah Silverman’s character is there in the beginning then pushed aside and brought back but by the time she makes her brief appearance at the end you forgot she was even there in the first place. Lee Pace’s character, a doctor also pops up in different scenes throughout the movie and he never really means anything to the story and it makes some of his scenes feel pretty much pointless.
Because of the tonal shift that this movie has there are 3 distinct parts to me uplifting, sad, and thrilling. (I don’t recommend watching the trailer at all, because if you do it’s pretty easy to figure out what happens in each of these parts.) These are 3 completely different tones and they don’t always work together very well. However, the best compliment I can give to this film and the reason I didn’t walk out hating it like I think a lot of people will is that it you feel all of these emotions when you’re supposed to. When you’re supposed to feel sad you feel sad, when the movie switches to it’s thriller like conclusion I was genuinely into it. This is due to a fantastic scene involving a talent show and dance routine with Maddie Ziegler. (she’s actually pretty good in this movie) This film makes you feel what you’re supposed to feel and that’s the level that it succeeds on. There are some stupid things in the plot there are easy to point out and hard to ignore, but when you strip it down to base level you experience what the film wants you to experience and that’s that.
I do applaud Colin Trevorrow for taking a risk and making this rather ambitious film. It will struggle critically mostly because of it’s major tonal issues, but I think it will find it’s audience of people enjoying it for that very same reason. This one is going to shock some people and in some weird way, this crazy tonal shift I keep talking about: it kinda worked for me. It’s different which can be good, but maybe it was a little too different than what we were ready for right now.
**As I mentioned above I got to meet director Colin Trevorrow at this screening! Which was a pretty cool experience. Getting talk to him about film>digital, a passion that we both share was something that I’ll remember for a long time. I for one think he’ll do a great job with episode 9My friends and I with Colin at my screening*