Few films over the last couple years have faced critical backlash as vicious as “The Book of Henry.” The family drama, a passion project for “Jurassic World” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” director Colin Trevorrow, was more or less the laughing stock of indie film in summer 2017, with critics baffled by its tonal changes and ludicrous plot twists. Nearly a year after opening in theaters, Trevorrow opened up on the misfire in an interview with Uproxx.
“It was painful. But, you know, life is full of pain, and we all experience loss,” Trevorrow said. “Not all of us have to watch it play out online, but that’s the gig. And I feel like in America right now, your pain is bait. You know, your pain is clickable. And my kids felt it, my wife felt it. But, you know, there are moments in your life when your kids see that you’ve fallen down. And they watch, waiting to see if you’re going to get up. And how you handle failure will teach them how to handle it themselves.”
Trevorrow said he doesn’t “fault” critics for complaining about the story. “The Book of Henry” stars Jaeden Lieberher as an 11-year-old who teams up with his mother (Naomi Watts) and younger brother (Jacob Tremblay) to save a troubled neighbor. Numerous plot elements baffled critics, including Lieberher’s Henry being diagnosed with a brain tumor and dying at the end of the first act and the reveal of the eponymous book, which is essentially a guide for Henry’s mother and brother to kill a sex offender.
“The movie [does go batshit crazy]. Our world is batshit crazy and our news cycle takes sharp turns every single day that seem entirely surreal,” Trevorrow said. “And that film felt like the way I felt over the past two years: just enraged by these events that I am powerless to stop and at times feeling like I’m losing my own compass as I try to deal with them. And so it was just the story that I wanted to tell in 2015 as we headed into that election. It’s just what the world looked like to me.”
Trevorrow continued by calling the response to the film both “damaging” and “devastating.” The filmmaker said what hurst the most was the fact the film was a giant undertaking that required hundreds of crew members who felt “so earnestly good about what they were doing.” While Trevorrow understands the negative reviews, he stands by his attempt to make a socially relevant film.
“I made a film about holding predatory men in positions of power accountable for assault, and that is an uncomfortable subject to talk about,” Trevorrow said. “But we are talking about it now and we’re listening and I hope the negative response won’t deter other filmmakers from telling these stories, because we need to hear them, both in life and in art.”
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Two years before “The Book of Henry” opened in theaters, Trevorrow landed the gig of directing “Star Wars: Episode IX.” The filmmaker’s hiring was announced a couple months after “Jurassic World” became one of the biggest movies in the world. In September 2017, under two months after “Henry” opened, Trevorrow was taken off the Lucasfilm tentpole. Rumors circulated at the time the response to “The Book of Henry” was a factor in Trevorrow leaving “Star Wars,” although Lucasfilm said it was due to “creative differences” over the story.
“I don’t know. I mean, I can’t really speculate on it,” Trevorrow said when asked if “Henry” cost him “Episode IX.” “I’ll tell you that the reaction to ‘Book of Henry’ was far more damaging than the actual movie. And I don’t mean specifically at Lucasfilm. I mean, that was a very acidic situation. And, look, every director who has worked in Lucasfilm put their heart and soul into the job and they left it all in the field, and the bottom line here is that sometimes creative people can’t find a shared path through the woods.”
Trevorrow will return to the “Jurassic World” franchise as the director of the third sequel. The second movie in the trilogy, “Fallen Kingdom,” is co-written and produced by Trevorrow and opens in theaters June 22. Head over to Uproxx to read Trevorrow’s interview in its entirety.