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film review: The Extra Man

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin July 30, 2010 at 4:00AM

If you have any fondness for life’s oddballs, I think you’ll share my affection for the latest film from the writing/directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who brought us American Splendor. The Extra Man, based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, focuses on two men who exist out of their time: Henry Harrison, a pompous, world-class eccentric who gets by as an escort, or “extra man,” for aging Manhattan society women, and Louis Ives, an unworldly academic with a propensity for cross-dressing.
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If you have any fondness for life’s oddballs, I think you’ll share my affection for the latest film from the writing/directing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who brought us American Splendor. The Extra Man, based on a novel by Jonathan Ames, focuses on two men who exist out of their time: Henry Harrison, a pompous, world-class eccentric who gets by as an escort, or “extra man,” for aging Manhattan society women, and Louis Ives, an unworldly academic with a propensity for cross-dressing.

Harrison is vividly brought to life by Kevin Kline, who seems to revel in his character’s peculiarities. He’s proudly, gloriously strange, a creature of his own invention. This is one of the best parts Kline has ever had, a golden opportunity for him to draw on his gift for—

—theatricality, yet somehow he finds the humanity that lurks behind Henry’s fearless façade. But it isn’t a solo turn: he’s matched, step for step, by Paul Dano, as the younger man who becomes Harrison’s uneasy protégé. From Little Miss Sunshine to There Will Be Blood, Dano has made his mark playing distinctive, unusual characters; he’s a talent worth watching, and treasuring.

The movie doesn’t judge these two figures: it lets us draw our own conclusions. Kline’s Harrison is a scavenger and a bit of a scoundrel, while Dano’s Ives is almost childlike and unformed. He develops a crush on office co-worker Katie Holmes and can’t explain his contradictory behavior to himself, let alone to her.

In a way, The Extra Man is out of its time, just like its protagonists. It’s an affectionate look at some of the colorful characters who populate New York City and make it unique. Perhaps it’s because I grew up there that I find the film so appealing—and credible. Berman and Pulcini make excellent use of the “real” city, avoiding obvious locations and landmarks, and they’ve done a fine job of casting right down to the smallest roles.

I know how tough it has become for independent filmmakers to get their movies made, and released, in a world that’s consumed by mainstream Hollywood product…but I’m awfully glad there’s still room for genuinely original pieces of work like The Extra Man.

To see my Secret's Out interview with Kevin Kline click HERE.

This article is related to: Film Reviews, The Extra Man, Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman