Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer‘ book, is a New York story, where its protagonist Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) goes around the city to find a lock that fits a key that he’s stumbled upon. Hoping that the said key will help his get closed to his deceased father Thomas (Tom Hanks), he missions through different parts of the city, every place filled with a different cinematic context. This is where Dean threatened to jump off a bridge, the neighborhood where Alike spent her adolescence or where Joe – a Woody Allen substitute – asked for donations for an Israeli state.
New York’s probably unique this way and just like the city, Stephen Daldry‘s film explores many new stories that will connect with Oskar’s. He finds the key inside an envelope labeled ‘Black’ inside a broken vase, convincing him that ‘Black’ is a surname of a New Yorker who can reconnect him to his father’s spirit or tell him something about his father that his young self couldn’t possibly know. The first of many stories involves Abby Black, played by Viola Davis who generously adds nuance to the few scenes she’s in – there’s a part of me who would rather her win an Oscar here than in The Help.
I believe that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tries to and admittedly unfairly posit itself as a movie beyond criticism because I treat it not as a movie but as a person. Or more clearly, as I would if I meet Oskar, the character manifesting the story’s values and world view. Just like the movie, he’s annoying, he rambles too much, has too many neurotic and post-traumatic quirks and can’t finish a thought. But he’s also an independent child who journeys within New York on foot which is plausible and the kid is awesome, he has Asperger’s and his father died on 9/11. Where’s your snark now?
In fairness there are many moments within the movie that could be deal breakers. The first line that Oskar says is statistically inaccurate and I hate ‘wrong’ facts in movies. The montage where he talks about the things he hates. The scenes where he does and shows the injuries he inflicts on himself. The last shot. Some of the one-sided exchanges between him and a renter (Max von Sydow) are the worst, first because he and the movie find a human target for his hammering shock and awe. Speaking of which I will also admit that the movie uses the Babe Ruth method, presenting a tear jerking scene in case the last one didn’t make you cry.
But if only a few of the emotions aren’t earned, many of the great images are. Oskar running across a red brick wall in a push and pull struggle with the renter. The renter having yes or no tattooed on either palm. The cool glass walls where Oskar meets Abby’s husband William (Jeffrey Wright). I can pretend to know something within those images that help present an arc within the movie. Although there is something about the brightness of these moments that makes the movie feel like a sobering letter to a healing city. As if an invisible yet ever so present sun is guarding this child, making this unlikely gritty place the setting of a fairy tale, not in a pejorative but in a refreshing sense.
Another character guiding Oskar is his mother Linda played by divisive Sandra Bullock, their relationship frayed because of his closeness to Thomas even after his death, seeing each other as the family’s third wheel. She’s fortunate because of the great material involving her character, in an already personalized movie her scenes show the familial and micro side. These scenes wouldn’t work and be the movie’s best without her talents. Daldry, collaborating with screenwriter Eric Roth, produce a hit-and-miss movie when it comes to its tone. But its pacing softens these thousand shocks, making it Daldry’s most visceral and rewarding. Just before it loses our emotional connection, it boomerangs it back to us again. 3/5.
- Marshall Fine: Movie review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (huffingtonpost.com)
I’ve seen Stephen Daldry‘s The Hours yea ago.
A movie that has an imprint on my brain. Its deep vibrancy and visuals to show the spark within its three protagonists, all of them connected with Virginia Woolf and her novel “Mrs. Dalloway.” I remember the dialogue and arguments that the characters have with each other, the camera’s close-ups towards these women and the object that surround them.
The parks where Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) strolls to after discovering her first sentence to “Dalloway.” Laura Brown’s (Julianne Moore) colourful suburbs and one-time hotel room that she rents before she resumes her duty as housewife for her husband Dan’s (John C. Reilly) birthday. How Clarissa ‘Dalloway’ Vaughn (Meryl Streep) taps her chin with her finger before doing her chores, walking all over the cold and polished grit of Manhattan to prepare for the party she’s throwing for her poet ex-boyfriend Richard (Ed Harris), starting with deciding to but the flowers herself.
And there’s the other common element among the main characters – their female love interests, unrequited and fleeting for both Virginia and Laura. Vanessa (Miranda Richardson), who has three young children and is a better and more benevolent head of the household than her sister Virginia. Kitty (Toni Collette), the well-built yet childless and possibly cancer-stricken housewife next door to Laura with a husband grosser than Dan. And Sally (Alison Janney) who gets to go to dinners with a recently outed action star named Oliver St. Ives. The three having this aura and presence when they walk into a room even if they’re arguably less beautiful than the women who pine for them. It was the early 2000’s and despite the lamented decline of queer content then, this is one of the instances when queer cinema was becoming mainstream.
One of the entries in the trivia section of the movie’s iMDb page: “Although the widely perceived notion was that Michael Cunningham‘s original novel was felt to be unfilmable, adapter David Hare actually thought it was effortlessly cinematic.”After seeing the movie, I read the book to find out.
Hare and Daldry make subtle changes to the story, setting Laura and Clarissa’s story lines two years later than they are in the novel. Clarissa’s Manhattan feels more autumn than June. The movie excises characters like St. Ives and Mary Krull. And sure I had reservations about casting like Moore who is older than Laura. Reilly, despite being well-groomed, is on the schlubby end instead of being in the middle ground of schlub and war veteran as the novel suggests. Clarissa’s competition Louis who is seemingly smaller than Jeff Daniels. Claire Danes has to wear chunky sweaters to remind us that she’s Julia, Clarissa’s Viking-like daughter. But they bring such effortless life and well-rounded nature to these characters.
The novel stays with each protagonist for a longer section of time while we see each women reluctantly start their days. The movie is otherwise loyal with the book’s interwoven time lines, such as portraying what happens to Clarissa before showing how Laura has caused them.
Sentence structures look simple until Cunningham’s urban sense kicks in. He describes the places where the characters live, putting his reader into each world and making us shift our eyes from one building into another, into the sky, making us hear the loud sounds or the silences. The writing evokes the few morsels of Virginia Woolf’s prose that I’ve read both in this novel and in college readings. He pulls out from detail to a bigger picture, these transitions within the paragraph read as easy as Woolf would push in the other way.
It’s also very object-oriented, especially in the novel’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ sections. There, he explains the bourgeois exoticism and how Clarissa likes things like her flowers to appear wild, even if everything is clean and arranged. Equally he writes how detached she is with things like her dishes that feel like her girlfriend Sally’s instead of hers, the same way the other main characters feel dissatisfied and awkward with their own relative comforts and successes. There are still traces of unhappiness in Clarissa’s life even though she’s supposedly the symbol of progress that feels so fleeting that the fictional Virginia and Laura couldn’t grasp it in their minds.
There is also less dialogue in the novel, as if it wants Virginia and Laura to share a kiss and a love for a woman or for Clarissa to successfully negotiate the power dynamic between her and her few guests. I like that the movie lets the characters air their stuff out with each other and let their pathos be more visceral and verbal. Of course that’s the only choice since two people staring or firing short sentences at each other in a room seems anti-cinematic. That makes me sound like a Philistine, right?
- Michael Cunningham discusses The Hours (guardian.co.uk)