'The Extra Man': An extra-fun role for Kevin Kline
A review of the delightful Kevin Kline/Paul Dano literary comedy, "The Extra Man," by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald. The film opened Seattle International Film Festival 2010 in May and now returns to the city for a regular run.
Seattle Times movie critic
'The Extra Man,' with Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, John Pankow, Celia Weston. Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, from a screenplay by Pulcini, Berman and Jonathan Ames, based on Ames' novel. 108 minutes. Rated R for some sexual content. Metro, Grand Cinema.
Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a pale question mark of a young man, has newly arrived in New York, seeking the life of a bookish gentleman. Right off the bat, he finds an unlikely role model: Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), an older fellow and would-be playwright who lives in a squalid apartment, cadges free meals while squiring elderly society matrons and is given to such pronouncements as "My great opus was stolen by a Swiss hunchback!" The two become unlikely roommates, as Louis' education in the real world begins.
Based on Jonathan Ames' delightful 1998 novel, "The Extra Man" is filled with moments of great pleasure. Kline, reveling in this eccentric role, chews the scenery like it's caviar; chomping his words with gusto (his pronunciation of "roasted chicken" is a meal), letting us see how Henry makes his world more vivid by adding exclamation points to everything. Dano, whose Louis is undergoing both job insecurity and sexual confusion, has a sweet hesitancy to him; by the end, he gradually acquires a gentle, hard-won wisdom. They're charming together, particularly when Henry gives Louis a dance lesson on a sandy beach, whirling side-by-side as Henry barks out instructions and the sun droops in the sky.
Directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (the great "American Splendor"; the not so great "The Nanny Diaries") struggle a bit with balance. The movie feels a little colorless when Kline's character is off-screen, and Louis' sexual adventures, toned down from the book, usually seem just sad. John C. Reilly, that fine actor, doesn't know what to do with a strange supporting role that requires him to speak like Dame Edna, and Katie Holmes doesn't register much as Louis' workplace crush, a sort of Daisy Buchanan with an environmental conscience.
But fans of the book will be pleased with the meticulously faithful adaptation (you'll recognize many lines), and with the perfect casting of the two leads. The film's quirky humor sneaks up on you: A voice-over narrator seems out of place, until we learn that Louis believes that someone is narrating his life in his head, like a novel — and then the narrator gets interrupted, as life has a way of doing.
And the great Kline thunders his way through his role, letting us share in the pleasure he's having. "Henry James sat on a stove and shriveled his testicles. It accounts for the change in style," observes Henry sagely. I could have listened to him all day; perhaps you might, too.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
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