Remember those trailers for Stephen Daldry‘s adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that we all cringed at? Well, how could you forget – they stick with you in a very off-putting way. Disappointingly, most of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close replicates that experience. Daldry’s a fine filmmaker, and with a script from Eric Roth – a writer who’s delivered his fair share of modern classics – one should expect more from their collaboration.

What their combination delivered is a mostly stilted, heavy-handed, and, quite often, wrongly manipulative experience. I won’t dismiss the film as being “blatant Oscar bait,” seeing as it’s well-intentioned and earnest. Unfortunately, those intentions, in execution, feel false and empty. A real heart isn’t here to grab onto; only an artificial and cold one.

The film constantly says how Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) affects all these people he meets, but it never shows it. There are little glimpses of the child interacting with people on his quest, and whatever his effect may be holds no weight. The only emotional beat that somehow works is between Horn and Jeffrey Wright, despite the scene leaving one with the thought of, “Well, how’s this going to impact Wright’s character?” Sure, he’s seeing the beauty of a child desperately trying to find an answer, but in the grand scheme of things, the effect will probably be as powerful as a nice Christmas card: makes you smile and maybe makes your day, but a few days later, you’re no different.

Worst of all, Horn never comes off as comfortable in the role. It’s one of those kid performances that, instead, comes off like a child being told to hit certain beats, making sure he gets the lines right. But it’s Daldry and Roth’s fault, not his. Oskar’s arc is never as moving as it should be, thanks in part to how Roth adapted the character. For the first half of the film, it’s difficult to engage with Oskar, and not because he has Asperger’s syndrome. There’s something very unlikable about a kid who makes fun of a doorman – a doorman played by John Goodman, nonetheless – and who tells his mom, played by a wasted Sandra Bullock, “I wish it was you,” referring to the death of his father – in 9/11. Kids are capable of saying mean things – and there’s an intention to convey that – but a line such as that pushes you further away from Oskar, making one care less about his journey.

I’m fine with Eric Roth’s more sentimental works, Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button among them, but this is the great scribe at his schmaltziest. When audience members cried, and even when I choked up for a minor second, particularly when Oskar loses his father, it’s wrongful manipulation. Brilliant idea in casting Tom Hanks as the father, since, you know, it’s Tom Hanks. Who isn’t going to tear up at the idea of losing Tom Hanks? He exudes kindness. The tears don’t come from Oskar losing his dad; it’s from one thinking about the idea of losing their own dad, and how dire the world would be without Tom Hanks. It’s cheap drama, all in an in-your-face-fashion, especially with the help of the fantastic Alexandre Desplat‘s sadly unsubtle score.

A few hours after watching Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I spent time comparing the film to Margaret. Both, in many ways – and this one more overtly – are post-9/11 films. They deal with coping from a trauma, trying to move on, and looking for purpose or reason in the wake of a horrible incident. Underneath the messy structure of Kenneth Lonergan‘s film there are moving observations on life, being a teen, and dealing with guilt. Underneath the calculated structure of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close lie obvious and stilted observations, making for a hollow experience.

The Upside: Most of the supporting players bring flickers of life to the film; Daldry’s technically competent; one scene with Jeffrey Wright, perhaps the only, is mildly earned.

The Downside: Oskar is fairy unlikeable for the first half of the film, hindering the sympathy or empathy factor; far from subtle; plenty of bad, manipulative drama; not even close to matching Daldry, Roth, and the cast’s talent; a much better film could have been made with this story; worst of all, it’s dull and lifeless.

On The Side: I didn’t have to try hard not to make a silly “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” pun.

Grade: C


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