The Extra Man
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
A sexless male escort! A buttoned-up F. Scott Fitzgerald copycat with a thing for women's lingerie,to the point that he wants to put some on himself! Played by Kevin Kline and Paul Dano, respectively, these are the schematically wacky main characters of The Extra Man, the latest from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the directing team behind the considerably more tolerable Harvey Pekar not-quite-anti-biopic American Splendor. The Extra Man extends the crazy-Manhattanite social anthropology of the duo's 2007 misfire The Nanny Diaries, which had the one intriguing idea of positing babysitting as fieldwork, though the new film focuses on the genteel poor, uptown eccentrics in the Collyer vein, rather than the high-strung wealthy. The Upper East Side is a land out of time in this adaptation of a Jonathan Ames novel (the author also co-wrote the screenplay), a place where aristocrats come down in the world snipe with each other over open rooms in Palm Beach, and everyone seems to drive old cars.
Louis Ives (an over-enunciating Dano) finds himself in New York City after some brassiere-related hijinks in the teachers' lounge precipitate his firing from a Princeton prep school. He rents a cramped but cheap room from the overbearingly patrician, non-sequitur-spouting extra man of the title, Henry Harrison (Kline), an erstwhile playwright who curries favor with billionaire widows for a living. Louis, an aspiring writer himself in perpetual search of things that will make his life seem more like a century-old novel, eventually takes a shine to his unusual roommate. A poorly managed subplot features Louis's attempts to flirt with a perky vegan (Katie Holmes) at his place of work, an environmental journal where the protagonist is later “promoted” from phone sales to the copy desk. John C. Reilly also appears as Henry's wild-haired, gruff downstairs neighbor, actually a gentle soul with a soaring voice (which he demonstrates on a beach into a fake microphone improvised from a stolen hood ornament).
The Extra Man seems to be above all else a showcase for Kline, and his lines are sporadically amusing, as is his character's brio in confronting the problems presented by his station in life (he covers his ankles with shoe polish because he claims all his socks are too threadbare). Berman and Pulcini try to dress up the rest with their patented cutesy formal interventions, including animation and ornate fantasy sequences (these reveries look a whole lot like Gatsby but don't bother sticking to its first-person p.o.v.), to little effect. While there's More Than Meets the Eye to nearly every character in The Extra Man, the film itself is a run-of-the-mill quirk assault, staged in all the usual Manhattan locations (Cinema Village!).
Opens July 30