Nathan swung through Ann Arbor while visiting family in Michigan, and he and Tyler used the opportunity to catch some movies. They did not pay admission for the film they’ll be discussing here. This was extremely smart and incredibly wise.
I didn’t really know too much about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close before going into it. I’d seen a trailer that depicted a boy searching for clues around New York City, and I was able to figure out that it had something to do with 9/11. Though I hadn’t read any full reviews of the film, I’d learned enough through the by and by to know that EL&IC was supposed to be insanely manipulative – I was thinking Spielberg on crack.
My initial reaction to the trailer was revulsion. The cynic in me felt a little guilty for rejecting something that was clearly meant to be sincere on some level, but the film appeared to be the worst type of Oscar bait (9/11? Really?), and I was pretty sure that even the Academy wouldn’t bite, especially with their new rules governing the amount of votes a movie needed to gain a Best Picture nomination. But they bit. And, though I know it’s immature of me, I feel compelled to see all the Best Picture nominees, no matter how bad they look. I torture myself with such titles as The Help and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button just so that I can have the privilege of trashing them in front of peers who loved them.
Not wanting to pay to see EL&IC, I was glad to find it just about to start as we finished watching The Descendants (a worthy BP nominee). Tyler, I knew that you were hesitant, but I figured that if I was ever going to sit through this tripe, it might as well be free, in a theater, and with someone that I could laugh at it with. I knew that we were taking a risk, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable filmgoing experiences I’ve had in a long time.
“The worst day.”
“The worst day.”
“The worst day.”
“The worst day.”
Well, no shit, li’l Jasper. Your father croaked in the September 11th attacks, trapped in the uppermost floors of the towers, and you didn’t even have the pre-adolescent balls enough to answer the phone as he tried to bid you goodbye. There is a way out, though, out of your guilt, out of your addled conflict, out into the sunlight from a true American tragedy that touched you in true and personal fashion.
That way out? Treat your mom like shit, treat a mute Holocaust survivor (former Nazi?) like shit, wander around New York like a chump, all in hopes that some random key will lead you to…well, I dunno, what? Your dad, alive and well? An alternate reality where you answered the phone and/or are not the embodiment of petulance? Hackneyed plot development involving Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright? Well, one of these possibilities will turn out to be the case. I guess this is where we should note “Spoiler Alert,” but, really, who cares. Nathan, I was all ready to chuck out of Ann Arbor Multiplex #4 (or whatever), and acquiesced with heaving skepticism at your insistence that we endure this unpromising behemoth. But, yeah, you’re right. It was worth it.
The worst movie.
I had a hunch that it might be laughable, but the movie turned out to be bad in ways I never expected at all. You’ve done an excellent (and extremely accurate) job of summarizing the plot, so for now I’d like to touch on the one detail that really took me by surprise.
We know that we’re supposed to sympathize with li’l Jasper and we’re supposed to feel the weight of 9/11 as we watch the movie. The process of searching for clues is supposed to be a metaphor, you know. The little boy represents us, Americans. The problem is that the kid is a little shit. Halfway through the movie it dawned on me that I didn’t want him to find the keyhole at all; I wanted his mom to give him a good whoopin’, lock him in a dungeon, and throw away the key. He keeps going around to all these strangers, asking about his damn key. Everyone treats him with kid gloves, no matter how big of an asshole he is. I wanted one of these people to look at him straight in the face and say, “Kid, your dad died on 9/11. You ain’t the only kid who lost his dad that day. You need to get a grip on your damn self and get over it. Quit being such a self-righteous, arrogant piece of crap. Losing your dad is no excuse for acting like a butthole. Treat people with the same repect that you would want from them. And tell your mom that she’s an awful parent. No self-respecting mother would let her little boy tramp around the city like this. You coulda’ been raped out here. Now, get outta my face.” Cut. End Credits.
I love me some antiheroes (Taxi Driver is one of my favorite movies), but this kid didn’t elicit one ounce of sympathy from me. And damn did he need it if this movie was going to work in the way it was intended to. Give the brat some Bambi eyes or at least one redeemable trait.
I’d like to pause for a moment to highlight some of the egregious outrages in this movie that don’t involve li’l Jasper and his constant, hysterical whinging.
-Sandra Bullock, Oscar-winner, embodying one of the more thankless roles I’ve seen in some time. Weep! Weep! Scream at child! (Okay, that one’s understandable.) Weep s’more! And then…then…the “twist.” She knew all along! Her bastard tyke was traipsing about New York City, accosting strangers hither and thither, and she had primed them all for his arrival. This, of course, leads to one of the more laughable, horrific exchanges of dialogue ever written, referenced by Nathan earlier:
Astounded Jasper: “But I could’ve been killed, or raped!”
Calm Sandy B.: “I know.”
Let’s break down the profundity of that bit of brilliance. Bullock’s husband Tawm Haynks (we’ll get to Forrest Gump’s hilarious accent in a minute) went down with the Towers. She never got to say goodbye; she didn’t even get to hear his desperate phone messages, as her demon spawn hid the answering machine. Her spouse evaporated in a pile of dust, never to return, and her response to this is: allow her only child to place himself in extreme harm’s way by pounding pavement all over the five boroughs, any number of possible predators ready and waiting with a cup of ketamine tea.
I know September 11th caused strange reactions in us all, but: no.
-“Auh, AhI’m, ah, cawling, something’s hahppened, we don’t know what, I gawta let somebody else use tha phone–”
Seriously, the accent is terrible.
-Max von Sydow. Father Merrin; the embodiment of death. As Nathan leaned over and muttered to me sometime toward the conclusion of his character’s “arc,” “This is where von Sydow is thinking ‘I worked with Ingmar Bergman.'” Did we mention that he communicates principally by holding up hands tattooed with “Yes” or “No?” Yeah. That happens.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. von Sydow turns out to be li’l Jasper’s grandfather. The film offers no reason or cause for this to be the case.
-According to iMDB, this quote exists in the movie. I can’t remember it specifically, and it seems too ludicrous for words, but I honestly don’t doubt it. “Succotash my Balzac, dipshiitake!”
I need a break. Nate Dogg, take it away.
That quote might have been one of the exchanges between Li’l Jasper and his bellman, John Goodman. Their daily ritual was to hurl insults and profanities at each other as Li’l J runs into his building. Yet another example of how throughly uncharming this movie is.
I like what you’re saying about the mother’s reaction to 9/11. While watching the movie, we speculated as to how New Yorkers might react to it. And while I don’t want to speak for them at all, I get the sense that it could be seen as a pretty offensive attempt at dealing with very serious and personal issues. I enjoyed the hell out of laughing at EL&IC, but another part of me is angry at Paramount for even green-lighting this crap and disgusted with the Academy for being suckered into thinking that this film has anything meaningful to say about “The Worst Day.” People get upset with Steven Spielberg for creating “manipulative” melodramas and fantasies, but I don’t think anything in his body of work begins to approach the cheapness of the sentiments offered in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. (I haven’t seen Amistad in ages, so someone might be able to correct me on this point.) The fact that the film’s release roughly coincides with the 10th anniversary of the attacks only makes it worse.
From what I understand, director Stephen Daldry wanted this shit released right around the anniversary itself. The horror, the horror.
Browsing some other scathing reviews of this trash yesterday, I was reminded of what Miami Herald scribe Rene Rodriguez called “one of the most ill-conceived images I’ve ever seen in a movie.” This of course would be the extremely CGI and incredibly awful shot of Haynks plummeting face-first into a camera, the towers collapsing around him. Do you remember that, Nathan? That actually happened.
That shot, actually, reminds me of a total and complete fallacy within the plot that both of us noted. It’s made egregiously clear that Poppa Tom is in the building, on the phone, barking for his brat-bastard son to pick up, when the tower crashes down. (Eugh.) Nonetheless, Jasper remains obsessed with Richard Drew’s famous “Falling Man” photograph, which depicts a mystery figure leaping to their death from the horror smoke-trap of the Towers’ upper levels. Well, Jas’, we’re led to believe that you’re some kind of boy-wonder meta-genius. You might want to put two and two together and realize that your father being the subject of that photo is impossible. HE WAS IN THE BUILDING.
God, I hate this movie. Y’know what’s an appropriate artistic memorial to September 11th? “The Falling Man.” (Not to mention this fascinating exploration by Esquire’s Tom Junod, who attempted in pained and pain-staking fashion to discern the titular jumper’s identity.)
I don’t remember that shot at all. Could it have been so bad that I’ve subconciously blocked it from my memory? The idea of this shot almost gets me curious enough to go to my local Redbox kiosk to see this thing again. I like a good horror movie.
The scary fact, though, is that at least some people seem to respond to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. We shared our experience with a lone woman sitting in the back row. I couldn’t make her out exactly, but she appeared to by crying as we left the theatre. I had really enjoyed heaping out my contempt and scorn for the previous two hours, but I felt a like an asshole when I thought that maybe this movie really connected with her somehow. I’d never peg you as a cynic, Tyler, but I’m definitely one through and through. Sometimes my own cynicism clouds my judgment and precludes me from having sympathy for others. I wondered for a few seconds if my attitude had stopped me from appreciating this movie. And then I thought about the movie itself again and thanked God for the cynic in me. It’s a trait that comes in handy now and then.
Yeah, it’s OK to hate this movie.