This year’s Academy Awards nominations are really bizarre. I absolutely loved The Artist and Midnight in Paris. I really liked The Descendants, The Help, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life. I was largely indifferent to Hugo, and didn’t like War Horse, but there was enough buzz around them that I wasn’t surprised by their nominations (even if I thought there were literally hundreds of better choices than either of them). But never in my wildest dreams did I expect Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close to make the cut. I found its trailer to be absolutely repulsive, and I never heard anyone say anything even remotely complimentary about it. But apparently at least a handful of people consider it one of the greatest films of the year, so I felt compelled to see it at least once, and I really tried to go in with an open mind. It really is awful.
The film stars Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell, the kind of kid who probably gets beat up a lot, but not nearly as much as he deserves. He is very selfish and disrespectful, at least when he’s not oblivious to the world around him. He’s afraid of everything, from bridges and elevators to old people and other kids, and even for some unexplained reason (except that it’s convenient to the plot) playground swing sets. And that was before his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), died in the one of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11. Oskar had been extremely close to his father and they were always going on adventures and quests together, apparently giving his mom, Linda (Sandra Bullock) the cold shoulder. When Thomas was killed, Oskar dug deep and became even more unbearable than he had already been. He refused to take public transportation and wouldn’t go anywhere without a tambourine that he would shake any time he felt nervous or uncomfortable, which was all the time.
Even a year after Thomas had died, his clothes were still hanging in the closet, with Linda unwilling and/or unable to get rid of them and Oskar hesitant to go near them. But one day he did, and while rooting around the top of the closet he knocked over a vase, shattering it on the floor. Inside that vase was a small brown envelope with only the word “Black” on it, and a key inside. Just like the treasure hunts he and his father used to have, Oskar took it upon himself to figure out what the key was for. It was something he intended to do alone, lying to his mother about where he was going and what he was doing, but eventually an old man (Max von Sydow) renting a room from his grandmother began tagging along.
While there is far less “policemen and firefighters are wonderful” pandering than I had feared there might be, there was nevertheless a revolting amount of fear mongering, made all the more unpleasant by being buried in Oskar’s neuroses. The kid won’t stop whining and refuses to see the world in any way other than how it affects him. In his quest to discover the key’s purpose, Oskar is downright rude to and intrusive upon others, and his mother simply lets it happen.
The only thing satisfying about the film’s conclusion is that it did, in fact, end. At over two hours, it took far too long for the end to arrive, and even then it leaves a number of story lines unresolved. I am thoroughly baffled that anyone would consider it to be a passable film, let alone anywhere near the nine best of the hundreds of the year’s theatrical releases.