"In the aftermath of 9/11," begins Scott Tobias at the AV Club, "the question arose of when it would be appropriate for popular art to address the events head-on. For a national tragedy of that magnitude, when would it not be 'too soon'? Yet Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an appalling adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, suggests that maybe that's the wrong question. The 2006 docudrama United 93, once the trial balloon for 'too soon,' dodged exploitation by focusing rigorously on the minutiae of a single flight. But it will always be 'too soon' for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which processes the immense grief of a city and a family through a conceit so nauseatingly precious that it's somehow both too literary and too sentimental, cloying yet aestheticized within an inch of its life."
"In truth, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn't about Sept 11," argues Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's about the impulse to drain that day of its specificity and turn it into yet another wellspring of generic emotions: sadness, loneliness, happiness. This is how kitsch works. It exploits familiar images, be they puppies or babies — or, as in the case of this movie, the twin towers — and tries to make us feel good, even virtuous, simply about feeling. And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage."
Stephen Daldry "has made a career out of taking acclaimed works of literary fiction (The Hours, The Reader) and transforming them into snoozy, self-congratulatory, assertively tasteful movies, the equivalent of book clubs that pride themselves on choosing only 'quality' books," writes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek. "But he's outdone himself with Incredibly Close; there's something cloistered and cushy about it, as if it were a movie made by Upper East Siders for Upper East Siders (the Park Avenue sort, not the 86th-and-Lex sort)."
If Stephanie Zacharek finds the film "too dull and spineless to get much of a rise out of," Ella Taylor, writing for NPR, finds it actually worth recommending. "The story's boy hero, Oskar Schell (an astutely directed Thomas Horn), is an elf-child who fully claims his lonely, odd and obsessive ways. Tests for Asperger's syndrome were 'inconclusive,' he announces cheerily to a total stranger. But Oskar desperately misses his father (Tom Hanks), a jeweler and scientist manque who died in the World Trade Center. And though Oskar is much loved, the world that formerly kept him safe has shut down, rather like the mythical sixth borough of New York, which, according to his father, broke off and floated away." Oskar's goal becomes "to find a lock that will fit a key [he] stumbled on in his father's closet."
R Kurt Osenlund in Slant: "Like 25th Hour as directed by the Care Bears, the New York-set film attempts to use the ordeal of one to address the pain and interconnectedness of all in the wake of what Oskar calls 'the worst day,' yet it's presented in a cutesy, sterile, pristine package befitting the shelves at FAO Schwartz. Quite literally from first shot to last, it's an elaborately overworked act of shameless tear-wringing, its manipulation increasing by the reel and emanating out of Oskar from his dreamy baby blues to his Leave It to Beaver wardrobe. If this insufferably drawn, answer-seeking symbol of a kid were truly representative of post-9/11 New Yorkers (or, wider still, Americans), one surely wouldn't need to look overseas to find a source of terror."
Listening (28'59"). Alec Baldwin talks with Daldry on Here's the Thing.