The Extra Man Dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

[Magnolia; 2010]

Styles: indie comedy
Others: American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries

Whether The Extra Man delivers on its promise depends totally on whether you find its ingredients promising. Do you see Paul Dano as a promising young actor from numerous indie hits or some twerp of the month who’s never carried a movie himself? Are you excited for another film from the makers of American Splendor or do you know that they also made The Nanny Diaries? Do you actively await more tales of pathetic pretension and sexually dysfunctional men from Jonathan Ames? How excited are you about Kevin Kline playing another pompous windbag? Can you imagine wanting to date Katie Holmes at this point?

Dano, either devoted to low-budget work or losing better roles to Jesse Eisenberg, plays a teacher whose interest in women’s undergarments has left him jobless and New York bound. The good-hearted fetishist finds lodgings with Kline’s Henry Harrison, an eccentric playwright who spends nights as an “extra man” for wealthy older women in need of escorting. Kline, whose dramatic roles float out of mind like most things related to Lawrence Kasdan, is in his daffy Fish Called Wanda/Prairie Home Companion mode here, taking Dano under his wing and espousing cracked wisdom in exchange for rides. Can our young zero use the tutelage (and access to decrepit billionairesses) to become a gentleman fop or will he succumb to his seamier sexual urges?

We can tell The Extra Man is supposed to be about a late-bloomer’s self-discovery and maturation, but with Dano playing awkward as near-autistic (good luck figuring out how old the baby-faced actor is supposed to be), the film never lands an emotional anchor. All the trips to tranny bars and “spankologists” turn out to be a front for mere romantic yearning (for Holmes’ unmagical waif, natch) and the film’s literary affectations are eye-rollingly superficial (the purple narration is explained as Dano’s inner monologue, but that doesn’t dignify using a Henry James paperback for a keyhole fadeout). With the movie reduced to episodic whimsy, the clueless confidence of Kline’s Harrison is a welcome if familiar treat, at least once the plot gives Dano reason to respond to his sexist decrees with more than bug eyes. When John C. Reilly’s wooly neighbor joins the duo and reveals a forced Curly Howard squeak of a voice, the film briefly snaps into place as a post-Wes Anderson Three Stooges flick. And for all attention paid to the inner torment of its Larry Fine, that may be what The Extra Man amounts to.

Most Read