Review: 'The Extra Man'

In "The Extra Man," Kevin Kline and Paul Dano portray Henry Harrison and Louis Ives, eccentric and thwarted writers who wind up in a mentor-student relationship.

As the film begins, young Louis lives in another era, at least in his imagination. A teacher of literature at prestigious Princeton prep, he spends a fair amount of time in F. Scott Fitzgerald's realm. Not, however, as Gatsby.

Discovered giving in to his curiosity about how the other half lives, Louis loses his job.

He seizes his misfortune as an opportunity and heads to New York City, where he takes a marketing job at an environmental magazine. He rents a room from Henry Harrison (Kline).

His name should tip some off to the "Pygmalion" aspects of their relationship. (Rex Harrison played professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady.)

Dano and Kline are very fine performers. So why is this comedy such a chore?

The answer appears to be whimsy overload.

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman — who adapted the screenplay with novelist Jonathan Ames — "The Extra Man" refers to the role Henry plays for the wealthy widows of Manhattan. He's their arm candy, their dust-coated butter mint.

Dano gives good face to the silences the film requires. He's gifted, too, with ache. And Louis has that in abundance.

Early on, he wonders if he's "lovable." It's one of the film's truer pangs.

But midway through "The Extra Man," one begins to wonder if any of the other characters are even likable?

Granted, New York City is a hub of eccentricity. Its population dictates more loopiness per square mile.

And Pulcini and Berman, who are married, are no strangers to eccentricity. In 2003's "American Splendor," they did inspired work with the prickly underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar.

"The Extra Man" is more catalog than celebration or illumination. The oddity parade here grows tiresome. Acting talent is not the issue.

John C. Reilly plays Gershon, a neighbor. Burly and bearded, he looks like a mountain man but has the voice of Tinkerbell. Actor Dan Hedaya arrives at the Russian Tea Room as a put-upon suitor, a rival of Henry. Bright-eyed Katie Holmes is Mary, Louis' vegan, self-serious colleague.

Louis' story is one of sexual confusion. Is he smitten with Mary or are his feelings murkier? Does he desire or identify?

Following Louis as he works through those questions is one of the movie's few charms. Yet even it becomes forced.

We can imagine why Kline was drawn to the part of Henry. He is a bit of a wounded bon vivant living in New York City on means not immediately apparent.

But Henry's grandiosity gets stuck on a high-pitched note. (He is fond of opera).

He's insufferable.

The problem isn't that "The Extra Man" is a comedy of manners. It's that the movie is all too mannered a comedy.

"The Extra Man"

Grade: One and a half out of four stars

Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Rating: R for some sexual content.

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman; written by Pulcini, Berman and Jonathan Ames; from the novel by Ames; photography by Terry Stacey; starring Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes, Celia Weston, Lynn Cohen, Marian Seldes.