Change of plans.
I was going to review the Academy Award nominations today, but two things have stopped me. Number One: I realized that by reviewing the Oscar nominations, I would basically have to fill in my own alternatives as a solution – otherwise, I’d be attacking things without evidence of a better idea. Number Two, and the more important of the two things: I watched Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close last night, and I am ready to rant. It was, and pardon the pun, but I can’t stop myself from doing this so I’m just going to go ahead and do it now, extremely manipulative and incredibly atrocious. Let’s review, shall we?
The Oscar nominations for Best Picture are hardly, if ever, perfect. This year’s nine nominations are no different – but ultimately it’s a fairly understandable roster. Statistically speaking, most of the nominees score well over the 70% threshold on Rotten Tomatoes. Two of them which are close to the mark are big-time crowd-pleasers in The Help and War Horse – you can certainly understand, if not necessarily agree with, their selections.
But Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – at a whopping 48% on the Tomatometer – sticks out like the world’s sorest thumb, like the world’s most ginger-headed stepchild, like Barry Bonds-post 2000 on a baseball diamond. This is, to put it nicely, a piece of emotionally manipulative trash. It features a script by Eric Roth, who apparently forgot that you’re supposed to make the main character likeable. Thanks to Roth, our main character, Oskar Shell, becomes the single most unlikable 9-year-old boy on the face of Earth. (And trust me, I have met some unlikable 9-year-olds.) He’s played by novice actor Thomas Horn, plucked from the kids’ version of Jeopardy!, where he should have stayed.
Oskar is going through a tough time in his life, which we know because Daldry lost the script during filming and just decided to throw voiceover over half of the movie. (That’s my best guess, anyway.) His father Thomas, played by Tom Hanks, was tragically killed in the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Obviously, this makes the subject matter of Extremely Loud uncomfortable and difficult to deal with. So how does the film delicately handle this? With the constant motif of bodies falling out of the Twin Towers, of course.
Yes, that’s right – I said with the constant motif of bodies falling out of the Twin Towers. Can you guess what the first shot of the film is? Yes, sadly, you can. Can you expect a notebook written by Oskar that features the paper sliding open to reveal falling bodies? Yes, sadly, you can. This takes “emotional manipulation” to a whole new level. Quite frankly, Extremely Loud is a disgusting portrayal of the events of one of the saddest days in the United States’ history. I’m sick just thinking about it. Apparently Daldry and Roth didn’t get that same memo. This film is, and will always be, the cinematic equivalent of “too soon.”
I suppose I should get to the plot at this point, or at least what there is of a “plot”. One year after his father’s death, Oskar finds a small envelope inside a blue vase in his dad’s still-untouched closet. The envelope contains a single key and the word “Black” written on the outside. Since Thomas always created puzzles for his son to solve, Oskar assumes this is a puzzle as well.
This is a totally ludicrous concept in itself, but young Oskar carries it out to the fullest. He makes a listing of every person with the last name “Black” in New York City, and on weekends, he goes out to find as many Blacks as he can. (This makes perfect sense, because if you were the single mother of a 9-year-old boy, you would let him go out and freely roam the city every weekend without stopping him.) The search takes longer than it should, however, because Oskar is neurotic and afraid of public transportation. He’s also afraid of about 25 other things, which we know because Thomas Horn YELLS THEM ALL OUT IN A RIDICULOUSLY OVER-THE-TOP VOICEOVER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MOVIE. THIS IS NOT ANNOYING IN ANY WAY.
Eventually, he draws a mysterious old man known as “The Renter” (Max Von Sydow) into his search. If you can’t figure out who this guy is after a short period of time, you should probably have your movie-viewing license revoked. The Renter is an interesting fellow because he’s a mute, communicating only with his hands and a small notebook. I found myself wishing his young counterpart was a mute, as well.
The middle third or so of Extremely Loud is actually not terrible, and it features some of the film’s only restrained and enjoyable moments, thanks to a good performance from Van Sydow. And then it all falls apart again, thanks to some more comically over-the-top scenes and some extraordinarily ridiculous plot contrivances…
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD. SCROLL FORWARD IF YOU ACTUALLY CARE ENOUGH TO WATCH THIS MOVIE AT SOME POINT.
Oskar finally discovers something new when he’s examining all his materials from the hunt. There’s a newspaper clipping from his dad with the words “never stop looking” circled that is featured throughout the film and inspires Oskar to continue the hunt. One day, he turns the piece of paper over to find – gasp – a circled phone number! Which is a very cleverly written piece of the plot…
…or not. This child is made out to be the most precocious 9-year-old in the world, someone who is crazy enough to go out and find 472 different Blacks in New York City. Are we seriously supposed to believe that he never turned over the piece of paper? He actually never took the three seconds necessary to look at the other side? Come on, Eric Roth. You can’t be serious.
The phone number leads to a woman named Abby Black (Viola Davis) who is, unbelievably enough, the first person he met on his search. Literally – the very first one. Out of the 472 people he is going to meet, his answer actually lies with the first person. Hello, ridiculous plot contrivance!
END OF SPOILERS, YOU CAN BREATHE EASY NOW.
Extremely Loud also assumes that most people in the city would let an annoying, alone 9-year-old into their house with no connection to him. Call me crazy, but I think at least one of them would have wondered where the boy’s mother was. If I ever have kids, I don’t plan to let them run wild through the streets at age nine. Maybe I’m just in the minority, though.
This is a generally strong cast that wastes their considerable talents in a horrific film. Von Sydow and Sandra Bullock (Oskar’s mom) do deliver strong performances, but they’re the lucky ones. John Goodman is totally wasted as an obnoxious doorman who fires back and forth with Oskar. (Actual exchange: Goodman – “Eff you, Oskar.” Oskar – “Succotash my ballsack.”) And James Gandolfini, whose name features prominently in both the trailer AND the poster? He is nowhere to be found. Either his role has been entirely cut out of the film, or he’s in the background as Passerby #7.
There are some things to admire about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Alexandre Desplat’s score is quite good, the sound is strong, and most of the performances and characters are solid. But the script is so egregiously bad that I cannot, under any circumstances, recommend this film. Unless you are a sick film nerd like me and want to watch all the Best Picture nominees, stay extremely far away from this trash.