Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close could have been a magical journey full of insight, melancholy, and appropriately educational experiences all wrapped up in a tattered-but-still-pretty bow. In reality, however, it more resembles a spindly kid running around and screaming for two hours before a hastily applied Hollywood ending shuts him up. There's very little to like in this movie, and what few moments there are are ruined by more babbling. This movie definitely wins the award for Least Watchable of the 2011 Holiday.
Oskar's father (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center on September 11th, so I wasn't expecting this to be a lighthearted comedy. But since it's told from the perspective of young Oskar (Thomas Horn) and focuses on how he's processing the event as a too-young child, the entire film hinges on how you feel about this kid--and he may be going through something, but he still presses on doorbells two seconds too long and is a little too precocious to be likable. It's like if Macaulay Culkin was genetically spliced with Draco Malfoy. Giving credit where it's due, Horn does a tremendous job bearing such a heavy load in the film, especially as a new actor. He's in nearly every scene in the movie and never feels like he's acting--he's just peculiar, whip-smart, and almost insufferable. Watching the movie is like being stuck babysitting for him, so anytime someone else joins him onscreen, the movie instantly improves.
Oskar unearths an envelope from his father's closet that says "Black" on it and has a key inside. So in an effort to hold memories of his father close, he embarks on a full-scale search in New York to speak to everyone named Black and find whatever the key unlocks. He uses his vast intellect and OCD to start the search, but after meeting only a couple of people onscreen, the audience falls victim to Oskar's quickly-shifting point of view. Soon he is figuring out who his grandmother's mysterious mute boarder (Max Von Sydow) is, and the irritating momentum of the film is lost. The movie has touching moments, but they come when the adults are talking. Sandra Bullock on the phone with Tom Hanks as the towers are going down almost sent me off the deep end. Then I was quickly rescued from that because Oskar started talking again. Sigh.
[Spoilers follow] I feel that the author and filmmakers owe audiences an official apology for the last 20 minutes of the film. Not only do they employ the use of a MacGuffin the size of the Empire State Building, but they give us no resolution for it at all whatsoever. And we have to sit through a big-reveal ending that is recited by Sandra Bullock, which makes it more tolerable than the rest of the picture, but is so unbelievable that you know it only came from the mind of a writer who really wanted to zing it to your heartstrings. Too little too late, my friends, I just sat through two hours and change of people whispering "I love you" under closed doors and watching a little kid call John Goodman a douchebag. Just because you made the characters yell "Some things don't make sense," and life is full of those kinds of events, doesn't mean it makes your movie meaningful.