The Extra Man. Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, the film opens this Friday in New York and on Friday, August 6 in the Los Angeles and San Francisco vicinities.
As the movie begins, Louis Ives (Paul Dano, of Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) is being fired from his teaching position. Ives, who is devoted to 1920's literature and fears himself "unlovable," takes advantage of his unexpected freedom and moves to Manhattan to pursue a writing career. Fortunately, he not only finds a job quickly but also discovers a bevy of "tranny" bars wherein he hopes to indulge his fondness for wearing women's clothing.
Ives also secures himself a room in the residence of Henry Harrison (the irrepressible Kevin Kline), a failed playwright turned companion to wealthy, older women. To call Harrison "eccentric" would be an understatement. He proudly — and loudly — boasts of his disdain for sex, kissing, recycling, homeless people and feminism, while cherishing dancing and his Christmas ornament collection. After imposing a "no fornication" rule on Ives upon moving in, Harrison begins introducing the young man to his clients. Harrison insists he is not a gigolo but rather "an extra man" or "walker" for lonely women who don't return his attentions with money. Rather, he is "paid in pleasure" via dinners in high-end restaurants, nights at the opera and the use of beachfront vacation homes.
Some of the women become suspicious of Harrison's interest in Ives. As one of them, played by the always welcome Celia Weston, tells Ives: "People suspect Henry is a homosexual. He was in the theatre. Theatre types need to be a little homosexual so they can feel things more deeply." Also, Ives' age-appropriate co-worker, Mary (a nice, light turn by Katie Holmes), on whom he is crushing notes "Maybe he's in love with you" when Ives tells her of Harrison's kindness toward him. Meanwhile, Ives undertakes his own sexual exploration with the help of a spank-happy dominatrix (Patti D'Arbanville) and a women's makeover artist.
Chief among The Extra Man's numerous attributes is its excellent cast. Kline, harking back to his wackier characterizations in such offbeat 80's movies as The Pirates of Penzance and A Fish Called Wanda, is a delight. Dano more than holds his own against Kline as the hopelessly romantic Ives, who would have been more at-home in his skin during the 1920's. In addition to Weston and D'Arbanville, stage icon Marian Seldes appears as another of Harrison's lady friends and gives a lovely, more comical-than-usual performance. Only John C. Reilly, as a former roommate of Harrison's, seems off-key, which is amplified (literally) by his decision to speak in a higher octave.
Adapted from the book and co-directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who previously made The Nanny Diaries and the excellent American Splendor, The Extra Man has its more outré moments but is in general an enjoyable, pitch-perfect celebration of non-conformity.
Reverend's Rating: B+
UPDATE: The Extra Man is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.