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‘Book of Henry’: Endearing, smart tale of child genius

June 16, 2017

Henry Carpenter in “The Book of Henry” is 11 and, as he tells us in the voice-over narration, “precocious.”

Actually, he’s a genius, just like the 6-year-old girl Chris Evans tried to raise in “Gifted.” But while that tear-inducing drama had a fairy tale aura, complete with a wealthy British wicked witch, “Henry” is both naturalistic and unabashedly fantastic.

Henry’s single mom, Susan (Naomi Watts, just astounding), worries she doesn’t know how to be a parent. She swears, loves violent video games and waitresses at a diner despite being independently wealthy thanks to her genius son’s abilities on the stock market.

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, an alien in “Midnight Special” and ideally cast) is a contradiction: a know-it-all liked by everyone.

He carries a crush on Christina (Maddie Ziegler), the girl next door (“my future daughter-in-law,” Susan jokes) whose scary stepdad (Dean Norris, currently playing a bisexual gangster in TNT’s “Claws”) causes a lot of problems.

Then there’s Henry’s little brother, adorable Peter (Jacob Tremblay, the Oscar-winning “Room”), who lives dutifully and without regrets in his big brother’s shadow.

As the family carries on, it’s impossible to say too much for fear of revealing too many twists in Gregg Hurwitz’s screenplay.

Hurwitz initially steers this “Book” into comedy, which all too soon becomes tragic and then detours into a bizarre but compelling, can’t-see-it-coming plot twist that literally is about Henry’s book.

With such wildly odd changes in tone and serious issues that include sexual abuse, terminal illness and alcoholism, “Book” depends on its director to make it all work.

In this, Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World,” “Safety Not Guaranteed”) succeeds, giving us a Spielberg­ian world not of fathers and sons, but, memorably, a mother and her two sons.

Trevorrow’s superb casting carries into the supporting ranks with choice work from Sarah Silverman, Lee Pace and Tonya Pinkins.

(“The Book of Henry” may disturb or puzzle young viewers.)