The Extra Man
by M. Faust
Kevin Kline may have received his Oscar for one of the great comic performances of recent years, as the aggressively stupid Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, but he doesn’t venture into comedy very often. So the fact that he’s going for laughs is reason enough to see The Extra Man. He plays Henry Harrison, resident of one of the least desirable apartments on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He calls himself a playwright, but makes a living (such as it is) by escorting rich old women to public functions. Not dazzling, regal celebrities, mind you. No, Henry is the one you turn to when all the well-groomed fellows who do this kind of thing—the ones whose socks are not so frayed that they simply color their ankles with black shoe polish—are otherwise occupied or simply not answering your calls.
Henry is not unlike an older version of Otto, better educated but equally unwilling to consider that he might ever be wrong, or that a thought of his may not be as interesting to the people around him as it is to himself. This is a man who loves the sound of his own voice and would never think of withholding it from the world. Nor does he ever forget or forgive a slight, and his rants about people who have wronged him give Kline some of his juiciest moments. It’s a good match of character to actor, and Kline throws himself into it with gusto, albeit too much so on occasion.
The problem with the film (based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, which he adapted with co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini) is that Henry is one loony among many. We are introduced to his world through the eyes of his new roommate Louis (Paul Dano), a repressed young man of as yet undefined artistic bent who has come to New York to find himself. Echoes of The Producers fade as we realize that Louis is as weird as Henry, maybe even weirder. He’s just quieter about it, not yet having learned how to let his freak flag fly. His search for himself brings him in contact with a galaxy of oddballs, from Katie Holmes as Louis’s stridently vegan co-worker to John C. Reilly as a hirsute subway worker with a ridiculous falsetto voice. A little of this goes a long way, and The Extra Man wore me out well before it was over.
Watch the trailer for The Extra Man
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