LOOK, I KNOW 9/11 was no picnic. I was there. It sucked. And in such a way that it makes the fact that I used the word "sucked" just now seem completely disrespectful. But surely the makers of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close could have devised something a little more interesting, more spirited, more fun than this wretched, moping movie. Directed by Stephen Daldry—perhaps the unfunniest director of all time—it's based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, who playfully toyed with the format of the printed novel to neatly sidestep the maudlin elements of his story, in which a boy with Asperger's copes with the death of his father in the World Trade Center attacks.
But this movie has no glint, no spark, no sense of macabre humor. Instead, it's an unending assault on your tear ducts and your intelligence. Thomas Horn, an androgynous and creepily articulate 14-year-old who won Jeopardy! during Kids Week, plays nine-year-old Oskar with unsettling poise and diction. He's not acting, he's reciting, giving Extremely Loud the feeling of watching a school play none of your kids are in.
The movie follows Oskar around as he bothers total strangers about a mysterious key his father left behind. Tom Hanks pops up as the dead dad in what's barely a cameo, and Sandra Bullock weepily plays the widow/mom in profoundly irritating fashion. (There is one patch of light in all this mushy crap: Max von Sydow is fantastic as the elderly, mute tenant of Oskar's grandmother, inviting light and humor into this dreary mess without uttering a word. It seems immediately obvious who his character really is, but to say anything more feels spoiler-y.) The rhythms and shorthands of the storytelling feel entirely wrong. Every moment is given profound, ponderous significance, and by the end you'll be completely suffocated.