So-So Comedy where Kevin Kline Steals the Show
The Extra Man is a so-so comedy enlivened by Kevin Kline’s energetic performance.
Kline proved his ability on being able to deliver great comic timing and play lovable eccentrics with his Oscar winning turn in A Fish Called Wanda, and he is very good here in a role seemingly tailor-made for him.
Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) plays Louis Ives, an aspiring writer who is sacked from his teaching position at a posh Princeton prep school under embarrassing circumstances. Louis has a fascination with the 1920’s and the novels of F Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James and is secretly a cross dresser with an obsession for lacy lingerie. He moves to New York, a place better suited to a person of his proclivities. Looking for accommodation he answers an ad, and ends up sharing a small and cluttered apartment with the eccentric Henry Harrison (Kline).
Henry is a down on his luck former playwright who now ekes out an existence as an escort, chaperoning elderly widows at social functions. The pair are complete opposites – Louis is confused about his sexual identity, while Henry admits that he is to the right of the Pope on sexual issues – and the film follows this odd couple pairing as an unusual friendship slowly develops. Henry takes Louis under his wing, and educates him in some of the finer points of surviving in New York – such as how to get into the opera for free and how to discreetly urinate on a public street.
The Extra Man has been adapted from the quirky novel written by Jonathan Ames (the creator of HBO series Bored To Death), and is at times erudite and articulate. The voice over narration device can sometime be quite clunky, but here it works, and is occasionally alluded to in amusing fashion by Louis himself. The film has been directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who previously gave us the wonderful American Splendor and the bland The Nanny Diaries.
Kline has landed one of his best roles for some time and he grabs it enthusiastically. Dano brings a wounded vulnerability and touching awkwardness to his performance, which contrasts nicely with Kline’s shameless scenery chewing. There is a solid supporting cast that brings the idiosyncratic characters to life. John C Reilly plays an unusually hirsute neighbour with a high pitched voice, while Katie Holmes plays a colleague at the environmentally themed journal where Louis gets a job and a potential love interest.
But this is Kline’s movie, and it is always enjoyable to watch whenever he is on screen.