This Eccentric Comedy Will Find an Audience
I just was not that impressed, however, there were moments when the picture almost worked for me. This film directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, with the screenplay written by Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman and Jonathan Ames, who wrote the novel that the screenplay was adapted from, made inroads; however unsuccessful, into the inane events within the life of confused literary novice, and frustrated private school instructor Louis Ives, played by Paul Dano. The movie explored how this young man, who was struggling with his uncontrollable urge to dress as a woman, found his life changed and very complicated as he struggled to discover his special purpose; however fleeting.
Louis Ives is extra-eccentric, not only in his confused sexuality, but in his recurring fantasy of stepping back in time as Jay Gatsby, with Nick Caraway (Fitzgerald’s narrative communicator in his classic, “The Great Gatsby”) as the narrator not only in his fantasy of Gatsby, but as narrator of his real life as well. These illusions of grandeur exemplified by his detached association to the “Gilded Age” juxtaposed against Louis’s real life of being a lower-middleclass teacher in a Princeton, New Jersey prep school, who has a fixation for women’s lingerie, immediately reflects a complicated light upon this character’s severe eccentricity.
And while complicated, enigmatic personalities can be fertile ground for comedy, Paul Dano’s Louis Ives came off as quite sad, while measurably unsympathetic, which is a bad combination if the producers of this film actually want to elicit the audience’s support through some measure of empathy. Interestingly, the directors of “The Extra man” were same as “American Splendor,” based on the adult comic of the same title by Harvey Pekar, who was played by Paul Giamatti.
“American Splendor,” like “The Extra Man,” was a quirky film about very unusual people, and while I found this later film by this directorial duo most interesting, I identified much more with the disheveled, gravely, cancer afflicted Harvey Pekar, rather than Paul Dano’s teary-eyed, bewildered character. It’s not that Paul Dano is not a more than adequate actor, it is just that his character was not written so that the average guy could sympathize with his emotional plight - at least not me.
The unsympathetic character of Louis Ives was not the only distraction, but was exacerbated, in some measure, by the Gershon character, played by John C. Reilly. Whether Actor Reilly, or the collective writers / directors originated Gershon’s ingratiating forced falsetto matters not, it did not work, and worked against the film in general. Oddly, I like John C. Reilly, and believe he is one of the finest quirky characters in the business. This time, he did not help the picture.
The one ingredient that did help the film was the character of Henry Harrison, the “extra man,” who is played by veteran actor Kevin Kline. Actor Kline normally handles every role with aplomb, if he is given decent material. In “The Extra Man,” Kline actually makes his character work with somewhat mediocre material, but it still does not save the picture completely.
Katie Holmes has a very limited role as quirky Flapper-throwback Mary Powell, a fellow office worker with Louis Ives, who somehow holds the attention of the sexually confused young man. The premise is that she could save him from his ambiguous sexuality, if she only would. It is a small inconsequential role, important to someone: I am just not sure whom. It was as if her (Katie Holmes’s) agent found her a small role in a quirky independent film, and the producers of “The Extra Man” are afforded the opportunity to bask in the celebrity of Tom Cruise’s wife as the co-star of their peculiar film.
Will Mary, Katie Holmes, help the young man with his dilemma, or will Louis find some solace as an apprentice to his new mentor, Henry Harrison, in becoming a serviceable “extra man?” Henry explains the “extra man” as one who is somewhat refined and intelligent, and can escort a wealthy women to social events, without performing sexual favors. He continues, “While all these escorts are extra men, not all extra men are essential. I am essential.”
If you love quirky “indie” films, this film may be a safe bet for you. I found Kevin Kline’s role as Henry Harrison “essential” to my finding any measure of entertainment value in spending my hard-earned 105 minutes to view this movie. You may witness an entirely different picture if you take the time to watch it, in its limited release in theaters, before it goes to DVD. I hope you do.
Released in theaters July 30, 2010. Rated R.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.