EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE – The Review
Two insufferable hours of sanctimonious Hollywood mush, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE topped my “Ten Worst” of 2011 because it aimed so high and had so far to fall. It’s easy to dump on a lame comedy like JACK AND JILL, but EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, a self-important look at one boy’s experience with the 9-11 tragedy, is a picture obviously tailor-made for Academy Award consideration, but it’s a crass sap-a-thon (or sappy crapathon) that indulges to the hilt every obnoxious feel-good quality imaginable, a saccharine nightmare that you may find yourself trapped in should you not heed my warning: ….It’s simply the worst….movie…..ever!
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father was killed in the 9-11 tragedy. Oskar’s Jewish jeweler dad (Tom Hanks) is shown in flashbacks trying to focus his socially-challenged son’s mind by sending him on scavenger hunts, coming up with clever oxymorons, and making up stories together of a sixth New York City borough that floated away leaving Central Park in its place. Then came the morning of 9/11/2001, or ask Oskar continually calls it: “the worst day”. He was let out of school early that day and returned to his family’s empty apartment to listen to six messages left on the answering machine – the voice of his doomed dad trapped on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center. A year after the tragedy Oskar discovers a key hidden in a vase in an envelope labeled “Black”. Perhaps it’s the key to a black door or a black box? No, Oskar immediately determines it’s a name and decides to visit every one of the thousands of folk surnamed “Black” in the New York telephone directory. This leads to a quest across the five boroughs, visiting every address – on foot, for poor Oskar is too neurotic for public transportation – to see if they have the lock the key fits so he can receive that one last message he’s sure his dad left (I’m not sure why he didn’t just pick up the phone and call these people). So begins the kid’s journey, traipsing around New York City, knocking on doors of stranger’s homes while his mother sits at home and mopes, unaware of what her son is up to. The first “Black” he confronts is a weepy woman in mid-divorce (Viola Davis), who gives Oskar a snack and gets a kiss on her cheek. Oskar gathers the various Black’s stories and glues them along with photographs in a research journal.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is one of those movies where the plot is doled out incrementally. It feeds you the story like a mystery. What’s wrong with this kid? Why is he hounding these people? What’s the deal with all those flashbacks? Sadly, it seems the reason for this mystery is to disguise the fact that the story never goes anywhere interesting. At one point, Oskar is joined on his journey by an old man known as “The Renter” who is living in the nearby apartment of his paternal grandmother (Zoe Caldwell). He has a secret identity you may not guess if you sleep through the film’s first half, and is played by Max Von Sydow. The Renter is cursed with that movie construct of being mute (I’m pretty sure mutes only exists in movies – I’m 50 years old and have never actually met one) so to help communicate with the boy, he has the words Yes and No tattooed on the palms of his hands. I’m not sure why the hell he can’t just nod his head for yes or shake his head his head for no like anyone else, but then we wouldn’t get to see him dramatically raise his right hand to answer Oskar’s constant badgering in the affirmative. He does this a lot! Then there are the scenes when the answer is No, so he forlornly looks at the boy and gravely raises his other hand. He does this a lot too before he abruptly exits the film (probably to go get his next tattoo: one that reads “Shut the Fuck Up Kid!“).
Thomas Horn plays young Oskar, who’s in every scene, and gives what may be the whiniest, most precocious and unpleasant performance by a child actor in cinema history. Horn was actually found after winning on Kid’s Jeopardy (because I guess hiring someone with actual acting experience to carry their expensive prestige production would have made too much sense), so not only is he a brat, he’s a know-it-all brat who’s constantly throwing out references to his phobias and whimsical trivia (“If the sun were to explode, you wouldn’t even know about it for eight minutes” ) like a disagreeable version of the kid from JERRY MAGUIRE. Horn knits his brow and talks at length with a voice that’s always getting increasingly shrill. The script throws out a couple of references to autism or Aspergers to try to explain away the kid’s oh-what-I-wouldn’t-give-for-a-tranquilizer-gun abrasiveness but those excuses don’t make the two hours we have to spend with him any more bearable. Actually, it looks as though the filmmakers must not think he’s irritating enough, so they hand him a tambourine to carry around throughout the film. I guess the instrument is supposed to relax him, but it makes an already insufferable character one who you just want to knock down and stomp on his neck.
Hanks does his nice guy/perfect dad shtick in a handful of flashback scenes but his absurd casting here is clearly a box-office ploy because really, when I think Jewish New York jewelry merchant I know I picture Forrest Gump (what’s next for Hanks? Fiddler on the Roof?). As Oskar’s mom, Sandra Bullock isn’t given much to do except act miserable and bitter, and who could blame her? Not only has she lost her husband, but she’s now stuck by herself raising this tambourine-toting hellion that she clearly doesn’t love and her circumstance makes you start to think her husband was the lucky one. Only John Goodman, in an amusing cameo as a gruff doorman, escapes with his dignity intact because he’s the only one who treats the kid in a realistic way (by mostly ignoring him).
Alexandre Desplat’s tinkly overburdened score swells up to make it appear as if we’re being profoundly touched but EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE comes off as trying way too hard, and thus it never gets under your skin or into your heart. If the film had been better constructed and better directed, I still doubt it would have worked. When EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE made our “Top Ten Worst” list last week here at We Are Movie Geeks, a reader comment noted that we should be “ashamed” for including it. Because of the Holocaust-like enormity of the event, must every film on the subject of 9/11 be treated with a hushed reverence? Would only a heartless cynic dump on such a good-hearted film? No, it made the list because it’s a bad movie and it really wouldn’t have changed the plot much if Oskar’s dad had been killed by a mugger or run over by a train or died of cancer, nor would the boy’s grief have been any less profound, so it’s the filmmakers who should be ashamed (assuming there’s shame to go around) of exploiting the 9-11 tragedy and using it as the background for such an appallingly manipulative tear-jerker. UNITED 93 and Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER were two outstanding films on the subject, but they focused on very specific events of that day. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSED supposedly is about the bigger picture, yet it’s a movie that cravenly attempts to wring tears from scenes of a young boy’s father falling to his death from the Twin Towers. To extract meaningful drama out of mass tragedy requires skill, depth and authentic sensitivity instead of gimmicks, treacly music and an over reliance on cliches. I have nothing against sentiment, but it must be earned. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is ill-conceived, poorly written and badly directed drama, a muddle-headed treatment of serious issues capped with some really weird, stupefying plot twists.
You may be interested in where Oskar’s quest with the key will lead but it’s never resolved. Turns out the very first Black home that Oskar visited (the one with the crying Viola Davis) was the correct one after all and when he finally goes back and confronts her husband (Jeffrey Wright), Mr. Black indeed recognizes the key. Turns out it was left to him by his father, and it may solve some mystery between that father and son, two men who we’ve never been introduced to! So Oskar hands the key over to Mr. Black, he’s on his way and that’s the end of the puzzle! Maybe something heavy is resolved for this Mr. Black, but certainly not for the audience. If that isn’t bad enough, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE adds one final dumbfounding twist; Turns out Oskar’s mom has stumbled across his busy scrapbooks and has figured out exactly what her son has been up to all day. No responsible mother would let her son wander around New York alone going into strange homes in a fruitless search, would she? Well, this one would, but not only does she keep her discovery to herself, she too begins cruising around the city visiting all the Blacks, a step ahead of her child (I guess this is to make sure his subsequent journey is safe – I’m not sure – my shaking head was buried in my hands by this time). At one point, a dimwitted slobbery guy hugs her 14 times. This is supposed to be a heartwarming moment until you realize that she must be aware that this drooling perv will soon be embracing her little boy. What a smart, caring mother.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE joins PATCH ADAMS, PAY IT FORWARD, and SEVEN POUNDS in a gummy helping of self-righteous drivel smothered by an overdose of sickly sentimentality – avoid like your life depended on it and if you do see it, don’t say you weren’t warned. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is the worst movie of this – or any - year.