More like Extremely Manipulative and Incredibly Annoying.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close uses the tragedy of 9/11 to manipulate the audience into feeling emotions that the writing and acting are unable to generate on their own and to cover up that this is a fairly frivolous film.
Nine year old Oskar Schell is different. The movie makes sure you know this by loading this kid up with eccentricities and neurosis. A throwaway line in the movie indicates that he may be somewhere on the autism scale. His beloved father (Tom Hanks) devises games and adventures to try and socialize Oskar and force him to interact with people, a skill that he struggles with. A year after Oskar’s father is killed in the World Trade Center attack, Oskar discovers a key hidden in his father’s belongings. Imagining that is it one last game from his father, Oskar sets off to find the owner of the key and what it unlocks. His mother (Sandra Bullock) cries a lot and seems oblivious to the fact her child is going off into the city by himself and knocking on stranger’s doors.
As written and portrayed by newcomer Thomas Horn, Oskar is fairly annoying. I feel bad even writing that; here is a character that lost his father and desperately wants to keep the connection alive and all I want is for the kid to shut up once in a while. This is not an ideal quality for your main character to have. I’m not sure if it is all the quirks that he has been saddled with, his precociousness or the fact that he yells a lot, but it was difficult for me to connect and honestly care about Oskar and his quest. A much more nuanced portrayal of a child with Asperger’s (if that is indeed Oskar’s diagnosis) can be found on the TV show Parenthood. I think it was a mistake to give the role to a child that was discovered on Kids Jeopardy! He just is not up to the task.
The film does try to get you to care about Oskar, but it does so by relying on 9/11. A lot. The director never lets you forget how Oscar’s father died. You hear the panicked messages left on the answering machine before the collapse of the towers. Planes flying overhead are filmed to give the illusion that they are going to crash into a building. It is all a cheap attempt to tap into the well of sadness and grief that people have about that day. The filmmakers are using a shortcut to generate emotion, but it is all unearned. It is highly likely you will cry watching this film, but they are tears of remembrance. They have very little to go with what is actually happening in the movie.
The one bright spot of the film is Max von Sydow as the mysterious man who rents a room from Oskar’s grandmother and accompanies him on the search. The character does not speak and von Sydow does a masterful job using his facial expressions and posture to convey his thoughts and emotions. He makes the most of the limited script, but even his character is not fully developed.
There are stories to be told about September 11th, the grieving process and recovery. This just isn’t one of them.