Directed By: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Screenplay By: Robert Pulcini, Jonathan Ames, Shari Springer Berman
Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames
Produced By: Anthony Bregman, Stephanie Davis
Cast: Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Cathy Moriarty, Marian Seldes
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 108 minutes
Release Date: August 13, 2010
Review Date: August 13, 2010
There is no shortage of quirky individuals in this group of friends and enemies, living a life of splendorous squalor in Manhattan — escorting wealthy old ladies (who apparently do know better this time around but still enjoy the attention), begging for opera tickets and return-entry stubs at intermission, and painting “socks” on one’s feet for lack of real ones. They revolve around the same dream, not of being rich or famous, but of having some class, more often than not making asses of themselves in the process.
That is the joke of The Extra Man. Look how silly and bizarre and odd these people are. See how they cannot be anything else but. The result, predictably, is a movie that is entirely about how silly and bizarre and odd its characters are and nothing else but.
It is seen through the eyes and heard through the third-person narration (that refers to him as “the gentleman”) of Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a high school teacher equally obsessed with The Great Gatsby and women’s underwear. Early on, he is discussing the novel’s narrator with a female student, who drops her book and bends over to reveal the waistband of her undergarments. We suspect one thing and soon learn another, as he tries on the bra of a co-worker who left it in her bag in the teacher’s lounge. When the principal walks in, he tries to explain that it’s not his, as though that will make the situation less awkward.
It’s time for Louis to move on to Manhattan. In the city, he takes up lodging with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a failed playwright who longs to go back to Russia, where bottles of champagne only cost four dollars a pop. He believes Princeton was once a great school “until they let the women in,” and he is “to the right of the pope” on most issues involving sex. He doesn’t have it (and might never have had it in his life) and doesn’t want Louis or anyone else to be having it either — especially in his apartment.
Kline, sporting a mustache as he does in most of his more outlandish roles, is of important significance to the movie, as he portrays the only true example of blustering lunacy the story (based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, as adapted by Ames and co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini) has to offer. He knows the fun of a bit of bombast. His Harrison is a man who is only playing the aristocrat because he lacks the monetary foundation to make that a reality. There is an air of pretension to his every gesture and lesson to Louis. Harrison even finds a way of making urinating in the street into an art form of belying the crude through upper-class appearance using only an overcoat.
He is an escort, although he prefers the term “extra man,” as in the millionaires and billionaires need an extra person at the table after their husbands (or wives, in rarer circumstances) have died, simply to maintain the male/female sitting order and ratio at the dinner table. There’s no financial gain, only the opportunity to dine at the Russian Tea Room and attend social parties.
Louis finds the prospect appealing and suggests he could do the same. Harrison is reluctant, but in the meantime, Louis finds a job at an environmentalist journal (“A front for pornography,” Harrison suspects), where he meets Mary (Katie Holmes). He likes her, or perhaps he likes the way she looks on a more aesthetic level. She takes advantage of his seeming affection and serves only as a further means to embarrass Louis. He drives her home, and she discovers an ad for a transvestite bar on the seat. She and her boyfriend run into him on the street outside the restaurant where he’s accompanying a rich, old client (Marian Seldes), and the client comes out of the place yelling for him to return.
There’s no reason to pack on Louis’ humiliation except a kind of voyeuristic cruelty. Truly embarrassing, though, is John C. Reilly as Harrison’s downstairs neighbor Gershon, sporting long, untamed hair and beard. Silent until the third act, Gershon’s quirk is that he has a squeaky voice but can sing “Somewhere My Love” with zest.
The screenplay is better when hinting at the oddities. For example, the suggestion that a Swiss hunchback stole Harrison’s masterpiece is funny; the hunchback’s arrival later on is an annoyance. The Extra Man assumes such broad characterizations alone endow these folks with personality, and that is an erroneous one.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.