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STUDIO: Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
• Cast and Crew Interviews
Precocious doesn’t even begin to describe ten year-old Henry James Herman (Jason Spevack). A rabble-rousing boy genius, Henry has his entire world turned upside down when – to the dismay of his single mother (Toni Collette) – he embarks on a hilarious journey in search of the biological father he’s never known.
Dennis Lee (writer/director), Michael Sheen, Toni Collette, Jason Spevack, Samantha Weinstein, Frank Moore
A 90’s alt-rock cover of Baby Geniuses, but actually watchable.
If you took out Danny DeVito’s eyeballs while he was directing Matilda and reattached them to a 1998 version of Wes Anderson’s brain, then drowned that Fiend Without a Face monstrosity in a jar of marshmallow fluff, the dying daydream that ghoulish (but lovably inventive) organism would concoct would probably be Jesus Henry Christ: a delightful enough distraction about special kids with daddy issues and the weirdo family members that linger around them.
While the movie does have a somewhat coherent story, it’s too disjointed and can’t seem to figure out who it wants its protagonist to be, so we end up with several by the film’s halfway point. There’s the titular Henry (Jason Spevack) who is mostly the driving force of the plot (he’s a wunderkind with a perfect photographic memory), his activist mother (Toni Collette), a spineless professor (Michael Sheen) and his misanthropic daughter (Samantha Weinstein). They all have their own arcs and obstacles, but they all feel a rewrite away from being the real lead of the film. If the movie had a little more focus, it could actually be very good instead of just being pleasingly okay.
All the actors give good performances (especially the child actors, which is a rare occurrence), but the best role has to be Henry’s grandfather Stan (Frank Moore), a scampish man-child if there ever was one. He’s fairly prevalent in the first part of the movie, but when he unceremoniously departs the film when the third act rolls around, his presence is sorely missed. The bizarre Spanish speaking scene where he tells Henry about how he was born is probably one of the highlights of the entire film, although it does teeter on being too quirky just for the sake of quirkiness.
And that’s my main gripe with the film: its artificial awkwardness. While some of it garners a few chuckles here and there, it robs a lot of the emotion from the characters in favor of just being kooky. The best example is an extraneous side character who is white but acts like he’s black (with the most godawful lisp ever). He’s pretty much a one note joke, until he’s given a small moment to try and explain how he knows he’s black on the inside. It’s played off as meaningful but feels utterly hollow. That could almost be an entire criticism of the movie, if it didn’t have a few honestly heartfelt moments peeking through all the forced wackiness.
Although the movie is billed as a comedy, the tone of the humor never seems to gel quite right. There’s a handful of fun darker moments (the beginning montage explaining how Toni Collette’s four brothers died or ran away features a truly hilarious accidental murder/suicide) but there’s no way you could label this a “dark comedy.” It’s certainly one of the stranger PG-13 releases I’ve seen in a while (even though our ratings system is a joke, this is one of the few instances where thirteen might be the perfect demographic for a film), so it gets points for the couple of moments it plays with being edgy.
The film looks great and has a steady hand behind the camera (cinematographer Daniel Moder, who worked on writer/director Dennis Lee’s other feature Fireflies in the Garden) and there are enough standout visual gags to leave a good impression on your mind. The scene near the end that features a tornado of Post-It notes is honestly cool and filled with the right kind of whimsy the rest of the movie seems to be hammering you on the head with.
It’s hard to hate on a movie that has its heart in the right place, but just doesn’t know in which direction it should be pumping blood. Jesus Henry Christ is perfectly harmless and gratifying for what it is. It see-saws between its own idiosyncrasies and creeps towards being overly saccharine by the picture’s end, but it never falls off completely. There’s certainly worse movies your thirteen year-old could be watching, but it gives this admitted man-child an itch for a double feature of Rushmore and The Squid and the Whale.
You get a few interviews with some of the cast and crew, all spliced together in one thirty minute featurette. Basic EPK stuff. Also, a theatrical trailer.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars