Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THE EXTRA MAN (2010)

Written & Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini


Where & When: Laemmle Sunset 5, West Hollywood, CA. August 8, 2010 1:40PM


Kevin Kline has returned to the big screen, after a seemingly long absence, playing Henry Harrison,an eccentric and unsuccessful playwright who entertains wealthy, elderly widows and relies on their financial kindness in order to help him make ends meet.

Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a mild mannered and lonely young man who has been let go from his position at a Princeton prep school. It may have been because of an embarrassing incident involving him and a brasserie but Louis sees this as a sign for him to start a new life as a writer and move to New York city.

After Louis arrives in the city, he needs a place to live so he sees an ad from someone looking for a roommate. It turns out to be Henry. After looking at his small, cluttered apartment and agreeing to all of Henry's peculiar rules for living there, Louis decides to take the room.

Henry and Louis bond almost immediately although Henry still keeps him at arm's length. Louis is soon educated on Henry's slightly odd views of life and creative ways on how to get by in New York with very little money.

Louis gets a job at an environmental magazine where he becomes infatuated with his co-worker, Mary (Katie Holmes), a pretty young woman who happens to have a boyfriend although this doesn't stop her from using Louis's obvious crush on her to her advantage.

Louis is harboring a secret desire to wear women's lingerie. He is ashamed of this but still finds himself being drawn to places where transvestites congregate and even goes as far as hiring a dominatrix prostitute (Patti D'Arbanville) so she will force him to don the undergarments.

It's not too long before Henry decides to introduce Louis to the art of being an "extra man" or a social escort for these bored rich women at parties and events but also how to keep them properly entertained. Louis soon discovers he is actually good at this job. It is partially because of his youth and innocence but also because he has something that Henry is currently lacking: charm. You can tell that he was once very charismatic but over time he has become more bitter and resentful and has taken it out on his patrons, and now Louis, with rude behaviour and outbursts.

I had seen the trailer for "The Extra Man" and it looked like it could be a fun and unconventional comedy which I always enjoy seeing. Unfortunately, after seeing the actual film, I realize that there wasn't anything else even remotely humorous besides what I had already seen assembled in that three minute trailer. It had the potential for a interesting film but it all feels too restrained and mannered for a comedy involving characters who are suppose to be very quirky and erratic. Based on the book by Jonathan Ames, who is also the creator of the HBO comedy series, "Bored To Death" which I love, most of the situations and many of the characters' motivations made this feel more like a pilot for a sitcom than a feature film.

I don't know what happened here because this writer/director team, who had previously made a good comedy involving the eccentric comic book artist, Henry Pekar, in the biopic, "American Splendor" (2003), are more than capable filmmakers but they never seemed able to get their footing on how to handle this material.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Mr. Kline, who specializes in these charming oddballs, gives a great, nutty performance. He is the only one who actually lets loose and about the only thing that keeps the film somewhat entertaining.. Mr. Dano, with his sad, pushed-in face, also does a fine job and there are nice supporting turns from John C. Reilly, Ceila Weston and theater legend, Marion Seldes. Ms Holmes, however, seemed uncomfortable and I think comedy is a little out of her element.

"The Extra Man" is a film that you really want to root for but ultimately disappoints. It seemed to have all of the right elements in place but just wasn't able to lift it all off of the ground.