The Extra Man

The Extra Man


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Whatever happened to Kevin Kline? Once the go-to man for comic comedy turns, he's slipped from our screens of late - so if there is anything The Extra Man should be praised for it is for giving him a role to get his teeth into. He is by far the best thing in this movie, which is otherwise so overloaded with oddball characters that it never finds an even keel.

Kline, however, remains a force to be reckoned with. He is Henry Harrison - a life-is-to-small-for-him thespian sort, whose every gesture is grand, and every statement profound, at least in his opinion. He's living in a pokey apartment in New York when we meet him courtesy of the ostensible 'lead' character of this piece, Louis Ives (Paul Dano).

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Louis is a wannabe novelist who indulges in 'running commentaries', Great Gatsby style, regarding his life - for which, read, annoying, sporadic voice-over. He has just had to quit his teaching job thanks to a penchant for transvestism that sees him caught sporting his colleague's bra. Throw in the fact that Henry collects Christmas baubles, has had his masterwork allegedly stolen by a Swiss hunchback and lives upstairs from John C Reilly's Gershon - a character drawn so thinly, his soul 'funny' attribute is that he speaks like Mickey Mouse but sings in a lovely baritone - and the resulting narrative puts the irk into quirk.

There are other plotlines. Henry is 'an extra man' - basically a dinner escort for rich, elderly women - a career choice which Louis feels would suit his F Scott Fitzgerald sensibilities, while Katie Holmes pops up as the, as is so often the case these days, underwritten possibility for romance. Although she has no character to speak of, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, still manage to fill her to the brim with "eccentricities" - she's vegan, sings about the perils of mass production plants but, don't worry, she's not around enough to care about.

There are hints that the cross-dressing angle is there because Louis feels ambivalent about his sexual orientation. But any exploration of this idea is sacrificed on the altar of cheap sight gags, many of which wouldn't be out of place in a Carry On film. In fact this entire subplot is woefully underwritten, quite possibly offensive to the transvestite/transsexual community and is ultimately little more than a macguffin - if you'll pardon the pun, it's a drag. There's no real sense of Louis as a living, breathing 'person' and despite his best efforts, Dano never manages to generate any emotional warmth for his character.

There are funny moments - usually when Kline is holding court - but the story sits in stagnant pools rather than coalescing to a satisfying whole.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2010
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An aspiring author forms an unusual friendship with an oddball older playwright.
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Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Writer: Robert Pulcini, Jonathan Ames, Shari Springer Berman

Starring: Katie Holmes, John C Reilly, Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Alicia Goranson, Patti D'Arbanville, Cathy Moriarty, Jason Butler Harner, Marian Seldes, Celia Weston, Alex Burns, Justis Bolding, John Leighton, Rafael Sardina, Kevin Scullin

Year: 2010

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Great Gatsby