Movie Review: The Extra Man (2010)

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If I was Paul Dano's agent, I'd be sending my talented client in to audition for roles in action movies, not necessarily because I'm dying to see Paul Dano join the Marvel Universe but because he's one of the most promising actors in his age group and he's dangerously close to being typecast as
├╝ber quirky.

By taking a cue from Liev Schreiber who can move from period pieces and heavy dramas to popcorn fare like Salt and Wolverine or Joseph Gordon-Levitt who deftly balances the Sundance cinema of (500) Days of Summer with G.I. Joe, Dano could finally break not only out of the pack but also garner fans from all audiences who would hopefully then explore some of his more intellectually challenging work.

From his triumphant turn as a nearly mute teen in Little Miss Sunshine to playing two roles opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood to his return to Bud Cort territory with Gigantic, Dano is quickly becoming the go-to guy for anything left of the mainstream.

He returns once more to the land of “huh?” in Shari Springer-Berman and Robert Pulcini's adaptation of Jonathan Ames' eponymous novel The Extra Man as a sweet-natured, polite, old-fashioned gentleman whose sexual confusion leads to a rather embarrassing dismissal from his position at Princeton Prep as the film opens.

Similar to The Great Gatsby and the other novels of the Fitzgerald era he idolizes, he confesses to a colleague that he imagines having a '20s style narrator recount his daily movements. And sure enough Dano's Louis Ives finds himself entranced by the Gatsby-like presence of Kevin Kline's mysterious, high culture worshipful playwright Henry Harrison whom he meets in New York when responding to Harrison's ad seeking a roommate.

Willing to allow the younger man the opportunity to pay by the week just until he gets on his feet, Harrison essentially talks Ives into sharing his apartment. However, Ives soon discovers that living alongside the woefully eccentric Harrison comes with several strings attached including the demand that Ives never bring home an overnight visitor and that he never look directly at his roommate when Harrison feels the overwhelming urge to dance like a crazy contortionist at seven in the morning to classical music on full blast.

Adamantly devoted to the aristocracy along with all of the finer art forms that city life offers even though he's broke and is never actually shown working on a play or teaching a class as he claims, Harrison eventually takes Ives under his paranoid and staunchly right wing, bringing him along on evenings when he serves as an escort to wealthy geriatric widows who pay him in fine meals, fancy parties, exclusive events and every once in awhile, their guest home in a warm climate.

Yet as secretive as Harrison is about his personal life that's filled with as many colorful characters as you'd expect in this '20s inspired contemporary universe, it's Dano's Ives who in fact seems to be struggling the most privately.

Despite a budding attraction to his perky modern day hippie activist coworker Mary (Katie Holmes) who works alongside Ives at an environmental magazine, Ives can't quite fight his growing confusion over his desire to wear women's clothing. Torn between his impulse to don lingerie and be a beautiful girl with his sexual arousal towards women as a man, Ives begins a strange big city quest to figure out just who exactly he is and where he belongs, all under the nose of his roommate.

And while the film boasts some delightfully humorous supporting turns by actors such as Dan Hedaya and John C. Reilly in particular who once again proves he can carry a tune with the best of them, overall, The Extra Man belongs to Kline's exuberantly off-the-wall turn as the catalyst for Ives' odyssey.

Proving once again that he is capable of generating our empathy even when we're not sure just what to make of his unusual character, Dano is able to hold his own among Kline throughout the film however fine acting alone can't mask the fact that Berman and Pulcini's self-consciously literary definition of overblown Wes Anderson inspired eccentricity is just a bit too quirky and unbelievably precious for its own good.

Obviously, the ode to Gatsby as filtered through Harold and Maude and other art films about unusual relationships is admirably ambitious. And while it must be said that the movie definitely keeps you entertained throughout as you're never sure just what deliriously bizarre character or situation will crop out of the woodwork next, unfortunately you soon realize that there's nothing all that memorable or moving about such a pursuit unless the filmmakers were trying to overdose on eccentricity.

In other words: Paul Dano, please call your agent.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.