Reviews

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

USA, 2010

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 23 April 2010

Source Magnolia Pictures 35mm print

Categories The 2010 Independent Film Festival Boston

The Extra Man has a roundabout narrative concerning Louis, a newly minted Ivy League graduate establishing himself in Manhattan. This we’ve seen before, and Paul Dano inhabits the familiar coming-of-age scenario with the necessary lack of guile. His insecurities are various, and he attempts to relieve each of them with hastened, head-over-heels fortitude—cross-dressing, escorting older women, witlessly courting his pixie workmate. His perpetually failing attempts to satisfy his desires in a new environment are ostensibly why the movie is funny, but this is not the most remarkable thing about it.

Upon his arrival in New York, christened by a requisite visit to a park bench to nose through a page of classifieds, he moves in with with an older gentlemen named Henry. From the first instant they meet, Henry sustains each scene with an unending wealth of eccentricities: he collects Christmas balls, he is a capable playwright whose magnum opus was probably thieved by a Swiss hunchback, or – having no clean socks – bronzes his ankles with shoe polish.

Henry is regularly flanked by Louis and another housemate, Gershon (an uncharacteristically hirsute John C. Reilly) who endorses the enterprise with a rather grating, high-pitched manner of speaking. These are foils for Henry’s constant tendency toward the ridiculous. His purpose at this point in his life is to serve as a sort of escort for elderly widows, and the scenes that describe this occupation are, like the supporting characters, catalysts for his unpredictable behavior in any possible social scenario.

Much of The Extra Man concerns Henry, portrayed with relentless propulsion by Kevin Kline. Once he’s in the film, he is uncompetitively the object of the audience’s interest, and he is consistently, inventively comedic. But the comedy he sustains amounts to the bulk of The Extra Man, at the expense of Louis’ desire, however trite, to establish himself, or Gershon’s inhibited desire to reconcile his friendship with Henry.

The opening film of this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston, The Extra Man preceded the festival’s second career award, this one in honor of Kevin Kline. His role in this film is somewhat eclipsed by his past work – his Shakespearean performances, A Fish Called Wanda, and, one of my favorites, Dave – but he’s as essential to this film as Paul Giamatti was to American Splendor, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s earlier film which earned deserving recognition for Giamatti’s performance as comic book writer Harvey Pekar. Both works have a nearly singular emphasis on character, but the difference is Harvey Pekar is a receiver of earnest sympathy. Kline’s Henry, in contrast, is a spectacle—and a welcome one, for that matter.

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