The extra man is described as a man who accompanies wealthy old women to galas and other social events. The men provide the companionship, the women provide the men with a means to live beyond their means. Sound like an interesting way of life? Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) is such a man and The Extra Man, based off of a book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, provides some comedic insight to this cutthroat world he inhabits.
The method employed to gain access to him is through a peculiar introvert named Louis (Paul Dano). Louis comes to meet Henry after answering a Roommate Wanted ad. I guess this is a good time to mention Louis’s sexual identity is in flux as he likes to dabble in wearing woman’s clothing. What that has to do with anything is a good question, and is one of many head scratchers presented to us in this slightly left of center comedy.
What is known is Henry Harrison is a conceited man fleshed out to the brim with over-the-top mannerisms and philosophical ponderings. He performs bizarre interpretive dance moves; he has mastered the art of pissing in the street without anyone noticing; pontificates of his own literary mastery; and for reasons unknown believes fornication is to be relegated to those socially and spiritually weaker than him (hence the reason Louis is not allowed visitors to the house, if he is to live there).
There is little doubt that when the screen adaptation of The Extra Man was being written, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman had Kevin Kline in mind for the pompous Harrison. Kline, who won his Oscar playing a similarly eccentric character in A Fish Called Wanda, proves once again that the quirkiest of the quirky roles are for him. He is extraordinarily at ease acting the fool when needed and equally competent when it is time to convey the inner demons that cause him to act that way. It’s his role that keeps the viewers engaged and the only aspect of the film that keeps it afloat.
That’s not to say that Paul Dano doesn’t pull his weight as the lead protagonist. Unfortunately for him, however, his diminutive, “finding himself in the big city” recluse has no chance against the boisterous Harrison when in the same scene (although, truth be told, during a few extra man mentoring scenes his straight man ways were a welcome offset to Kline’s zaniness). Some character insight is attempted for Louis with his transvestite exploration but it isn’t explored thoroughly, and like I mentioned previously in this review, I wasn’t entirely convinced in its need to the telling of the story. Likewise, the almost girlfriend played by Katie Holmes doesn’t challenge Louis other than to snub his meat-eating ways. Meat eaters suck, in case you were wondering.
Why John C. Reilly, as a falsetto talking, baritone singing neighbor is introduced at all is another mystery. I guess the same goes for the hunchbacked Danish ex-roommate (played by Jason Butler Harner).
Ultimately, The Extra Man tries too hard to be alternative cool and funny, and it slowly becomes a drag to watch a new idiosyncratic character or situation develop. Kevin Kline does his damnedest to stem the viewer irritation. The Extra Man is worth a cursory view just to watch him try.