Be warned: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's "The Extra Man" is indeed a "character study," but thankfully it's a genuinely odd and often endearing one.
Based on the Jonathan Ames novel of the same name, it stars Kevin Kline as the titular "Extra Man," a bizarre, sexless gigolo of sorts for rich old ladies, and Paul Dano as his protege. Much like Ames' "Bored to Death" on HBO, it's also an ode to the kind of New York eccentrics that are being buried by the city's continued Disneyfication.
Berman and Pulcini, who wrote and directed the fabulous "American Splendor," about the late Harvey Pekar, are at their best when they shine the light on American oddity, which is certainly the case with "The Extra Man."
Fans of "Bored to Death," of which you can certainly count me as one, should be warned, however: The humor is much less broad than with that NYC stoner romp starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson. That doesn't mean, however, that the laughs aren't here, there just more delicate and sometimes hard to watch.
Ames always writes a lot of himself into one of his characters, and in this case you have to wonder how many of the issues he shares with Dano's Louis Ives. As the movie opens, he's being fired as a professor at Princeton because his boss discovers him trying on a co-worker's bra in the teacher's lounge.
From there, he sets his sights on New York City, and ends up matched up with Kline after answering an ad seeking a roommate who's a "gentleman." From there on out, the movie is mostly about the relationship of that odd couple and their various adventures squiring old women around town (yes, it often really is as crazy as it sounds.)
Having read on the DVD box that this was "Kevin Kline's best performance since "A Fish Called Wanda'," I was bracing for an over-the-top mess, but for the most part he dives into the part of Henry Harrison and delivers a portrait of a genuine New York eccentric. Dano, for his part, slowly learns to give as good as he gets with Henry's odd life advice, and they play off each other very well.
Ames' tale constantly straddles the line between genuine oddity and contrived quirk, and at least a few times dashes right across it. On the good side is Lewis' visit to a "recession spankologist," something that would be right at home on "Bored to Death" and funny enough that I won't tell you any more about it here.
On the down side, however, is the usually reliable John C. Reilly, who plays Harrison's neighbor with a high-pitched squeal that will grate on you almost as much as his overall performance. And, because of course any movie like this needs a potential love interest for our hero, Katie Holmes makes an appearance too, but never for long enough to be too annoying.
Watching "The Extra Man," I was reminded of two directors: Woody Allen (who turned 75 this week - bully) and Wes Anderson. Allen for the extremely strong sense of place that marks the best of his old New York movies ("Manhattan" being my all-time favorite) and Anderson, of course, for the oddity, at its very best and worst.
The bottom line: "The Extra Man" certainly isn't for everyone (it got a measly 41 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes), but if you want to spend a little time with some genuine characters in a New York City that's rapidly fading away, you could do a whole lot worse than this mostly fun little flick.
And, of course, I always like to wrap things up with a couple of fun clips.
First up comes a clip from Julie Taymor's "The Tempest," which isn't likely to be on anyone's best of 2010, but along with "The Extra Man," it's sure to be among the craziest of the year, and that's always OK in my book. As you'll see below, this stars Dame Helen Mirren and Djimon Honsou, and also somehow Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper and Alan Cumming. Keep an eye out for this in at least some corners of the world Dec. 10, and enjoy the clip.
Next comes the trailer for Steven Soderbergh's tribute to his friend, the late great monologist Spalding Gray, "And Everything Is Going Fine." It pains me that in the many times I've been to New York City, I never got to see Gray live before he dived off the Staten Island Ferry, but hopefully this IFC documentary will be playing somewhere when I return there in early January. Enjoy.
And with that, I'm off on this rare Friday off to go see Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" in Atlanta, and really looking forward to it. Peace out.