There are some actors who excel at playing a wide range of eclectic roles, high or low status, mighty or feeble, comic or tragic. There are some few of these who can do so and yet still can shape a character into a thing that could only have been played by themselves. Kevin Kline is that later sort. This is not to say that every character he plays is himself, or is the same. Rather, Klein’s Henry Harrison (a nod to Henry Higgins by Rex Harrison?) becomes a creature even greater than could possibly have been on the page because he was played by Kline. It has been too long since we’ve enjoyed him on the big screen (2008’s Definitely Maybe was too little to count). His Harrison is why you would go see The Extra Man, for the rest of the film struggles to keep up with him. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini build a microcosmos of character, rather than fussing about the world at large.
Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a timid academic with a mild budding fetish, and who was born about 80-90 years too late. He finds himself Harrison’s roommate and eventual protÃ©gÃ© in the business of being an “extra man,” a sort of sexless escort for rich people for whom sycophancy and the balance of the dinner table is more important than sincerity or friendship. Harrison is maddeningly opaque and calculatingly eccentric — a charge that could have been levied against this movie had it not been peopled with actors of such sincerity. Louis is almost embarrassingly naÃ¯ve and repressed, but Dano makes it charming. Harrison is beyond sexist, flighty, and unsustainably cavalier, but Kline makes it charming and even appealing. Their dynamic could feel forced — it almost does when their inexplicably falsetto neighbor John C. Reilly joins the scene — and yet by some miracle they keep it grounded and keep it real and sweet. One scene in particular recalls many such “lovable eccentric” moments in other films, but never devolved into preciousness. I consider that a great triumph.
The art of being an Extra Man does not contribute much to the narrative, but it does enable us to have a couple of lovely scenes with The Billionairess, played by Tony darling Marian Seldes. A fun piece of trivia about La Seldes: she was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for appearing in “Deathtrap” from 1978 until late in 1982 without ever missing a single performance. Even though her part is small in this movie, she makes a terrific, bewigged impact. Louis’ crush on his unavailable, uninterested, and uninteresting coworker Mary (Katie Holmes, enunciating like she’s in a madcap 1920’s film) has nowhere to go either, but it provides us with the chance to see Louis grow elsewhere. Writing this now, it seems like none of the things that happen in this film have a point, and maybe they don’t need to. Harrison’s life is a quest only for pleasure, and Kline and Dano definitely provide it, even if their arc is short and shallow. See it for Kevin.
MPAA Rating R-some sexual content (?)
Release date 8/13/10
Time in minutes 105
Director Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Studio Magnolia Pictures