Blu Ray Review: THE EXTRA MAN

Now out on Blu ray, DVD, and scheduled to be available streaming on Netflix Instant starting 12/16/2010:

THE EXTRA MAN (Dirs. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, 2010)

This film, which I initially thought was too quirky for its own good, grew on me quite a bit. Kevin Kline has been in so few movies lately that it’s extremely pleasing to see him sink his teeth into a juicy role, and the role here is a beaut.

As seen through the eyes of Paul Dano as a young aspiring writer with delusions of “Great Gatsby”-ish grandeur, we meet Kline as Henry Harrison – an eccentric failed playwright who lives off of the splendor of rich old ladies as he describes: “A fine meal, vintage champagne…an orchestra perhaps.”

You see the scraggily gray haired mustached Kline considers himself an “extra man.” He explains:

“You see women outlive men so there’s always a need for an extra man at the table. It maintains a proper seating arrangement. Boy-girl, boy-girl.”

Dano, who was kicked out of a teaching position at Princeton and came to New York to “find himself”, rents a room from Kline and gets a job doing phone sales for an environmental magazine. Dano is fascinated by Kline’s philosophies and tricks like how to get into the opera for free.

As a fellow flighty co-worker, Katie Holmes becomes the object of Dano’s affection, but there’s a little snag in his plans as she has an activist boyfriend and, uh, Dano has a bit of a cross dressing issue.

In one of the most off-kilter performances of his career, John C. Reilly appears in a small part as a grizzly wide-eyed neighbor of Kline’s who speaks in falsetto. Reilly’s part doesn’t really fit in at first, but as the film goes on it becomes an inexactractable piece of the quirky quilt.

Though it’s largely Dano’s movie, Kline is who keeps it rolling with his witty line readings and chutzpah – a scene in which he teaches Dano how to take a leak while standing between parked cars on the street has more cheeky charm than one could imagine with that description.

What’s less successful is the handling of Dano’s sexual deviance. Scenes of the droopy sad eyed actor fondling brassieres and trying on women’s clothes are cringe-worthy and don’t add much to the more interesting material involving the wealthy women Kline is trying to woo.

A subplot involving Celia Weston as a wannabe socialite and somewhat rival of Kline’s isn’t explored fully, likewise Patti D’Arbanville’s skimpy part as a dominatrix that Dano hires.

These flaws aside, THE EXTRA MAN is just amusing enough to be recommended. It’s not as essential a film as director Berman and Pulcini’s AMERICAN SPLENDOR, but it’s fairly agreeable entertainment nonetheless.

Special Features: a commentary with Kevin Kline and author Jonathan Ames (“Bored To Death”) who wrote the original novel, a second commentary with the co-directors + crew, a deleted scene, a clip of the voice recording for a cartoon clip, a behind the scene featerette of the musical score, and HDNet: A look at THE EXTRA MAN.

More later…

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