Louis Ives has an obsession but not with movies or women. Rather he's obsessed with himself. He is one of the most self-absorbed characters I've ever seen in a story so naturally what happens to his him? He meets Henry Harrison -- a man more narcissistic than even he -- in Shari Springer Berman's The Extra Man.
Based on a novel of the same name by Jonathan Ames the film centers on Ives -- played by the young Paul Dano -- and his for lack of a better word issues. He approaches his life as if it's narrated by F. Scott Fitzgerald and he is a young gentleman living in the '20s. In reality he was recently fired from a position in Princeton (at a high school not the university) for putting a woman's bra on in the teacher's lounge. So he decides to move to New York City to "find himself." When he moves he finds an apartment with a crazy old man named Henry Harrison -- played by Kevin Kline -- who is an old eccentric Oscar Wilde-ish playwright spending his days shopping for ties in thrift stores dancing for exercise and living as an "extra man." Basically he lives the life that Louis wants.
And what's an "extra man " you're asking? Well number one an extra man is not a gigolo. It's better than that. He accompanies women -- mostly elderly millionairesses -- on dates to dinner art openings or other adventures. And as Louis lives with Henry he becomes fascinated with his lifestyle and in turn Henry adopts Louis almost as a son. Their relationship grows and the two become intertwined.
But remember that bra? Well it is a part of Louis' life that he does not share with his new found mentor. Secretly Louis is questioning everything about his sexuality. He doesn't believe he's gay but he's fascinated with feeling and dressing like a woman. Secretly he wonders about bras panties and tranny-bars and that is the dilemma presented in The Extra Man. How can Louis Ives live two lives completely opposite from one another?
The answer? He can't. And the audience will have a difficult time understanding this concept as it is one that just cannot be illustrated accurately on film. In comparison with Ames' novel Dano's Ives doesn't have much of a spine. Granted I expect someone who seems to be questioning everything in his life to have some difficulty making decisions but it felt like the entire film focused on Ives feeling bad for himself. Everything sucks. Nothing can get better. Blah blah blah blah. As someone who loved the book I felt this portrayal of Ives really diminished the battle of emotions that he went through. While reading I was genuinely interested in Ives' thoughts. While watching I just wanted to punch him in the face for all of his self-loathing.
Despite Dano's failure any time Kline is on screen as the crazy Harrison he lights it up. His lines -- constantly questioning the current state of the arts the English aristocracy or the holes in his pants -- are just flat out hilarious and he delivers one of the funniest performances I've seen in years. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed his crazy antics.
So overall the film is a "meh." I'd say watch it simply because Kline is terrific (and hopefully doesn't go unnoticed come awards time) but if you're interested in Ives' conflicted sexuality you should read the book.
Because this is a DVD review let's look at the bonus content. Honestly there's not much extra going on with The Extra Man. There's a deleted scene a cartoon a little behind-the-scenes footage and some commentary -- standard DVD extras for a film. Lackluster? A bit but there is a hidden gem in the there: Two tracks of commentary: one with author Jonathan Ames and Kevin Kline and the other with screenwriters and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. I have to say it's the former that was my favorite part. Ames only contributed one thing to the screenplay: Henry's lines. And since my favorite part of the film was Henry Harrison it was extremely entertaining to not only hear the man who played the character comment on the film but the man who wrote the lines as well. Moreover the chemistry between them is great and it's very evident that they loved making the film together.
Sadly The Extra Man disappoints. Check it out simply because Kline is terrific but don't expect much more than that.