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The Extra Man

The Extra Man (2010) is one of those ultra quirky indie comedies that tries a little too hard to be eccentric. Traditional comedies, for example, will typically pair up a bizarre character with a “straight man” who sees the eccentricities of the other character through the supposedly normal eyes of the rest of the world. There are no straight men, or women in The Extra Man -only varying types of weirdness. This film has two directors, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

The very able cast consists of veteran Kevin Kline, Paul Dano as his young quasi-protege, Katie Holmes and John C. Reilly. Dano plays Louis Ives, a shy young man who fantasizes about living in a novel like the Great Gatsby. Only his classical demeanor is complicated by a secret desire to dress in women’s clothes -which gets him fired from his job as a teacher.

Louis moves to Manhattan in the attempt to become a writer, and becomes the roommate of Henry Harrison (Kline), who is like two or three separate quirky characters rolled into one. Henry is a poverty stricken playwright who is an “extra man,” a kind of refined gigolo for rich, elderly women. He also recites the type of politically incorrect lines (he is against women going to college, and approves of the Muslim practice of keeping the sexes separated) you might expect from a would be Old World bohemian/aristocrat. Henry also collects Christmas balls and engages in a morning dance ritual that has him gyrating like someone having a seizure.

Henry recruits Louis into this dubious profession, and it’s not clear what the younger man would find so appealing about this, as there’s no financial rewards involved (nothing sexual either -it’s all strictly chaste).

Louis gets a job at an environmentalist magazine, where he develops an interest in Mary (Holmes), who is a stereotypical downtown, vegan, politically active type. In the world of The Extra Man, Mary is probably the most normal character, as her character is fairly believable and only comes across as parody in a very mild way. We can’t see much of a future between Mary and Louis, who represent very different types of naive idealism.

Thrown into the mix is Louis and Henry’s downstairs neighbor, Gershon (Reilly), who inexplicably (except to add to the film’s quirkiness) has a squeaky voice, a beard that makes him look like a hobo and an apartment full of random collectibles. The Gershon character really epitomizes the problem with this film -both he and the film itself are like random collections of bizarre traits.

The elements of this film don’t really form much of a coherent whole. Louis explores his sexual fantasies by visiting a dominatrix he finds in the Village Voice and, later, a club for transvestites. Meanwhile, he tags along with Henry as a kind of “extra extra” man while half heartedly pursuing Mary.

I probably enjoyed The Extra Man more than the above description suggests. I laughed in quite a few places, and all of the performances were good. It’s just that the story wasn’t very cohesive, and a lot of the quirkiness seemed gratuitous.

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