Farce in the City

Written by Eric Kohn on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

The Extra Man
Directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
Runtime: 105 min.

The worst bastardization of New York high society since Woody Allen’s recent domestic ventures, The Extra Man is a grating one-note comedy posing as something more. An unnaturally stilted Paul Dano plays Louis Ives, the sort of well-heeled young gentleman who went extinct half a decade ago. Losing his job at a Princeton prep school leads Louis to resettle in New York City, where he rooms with middle-aged loon Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a washed-up playwright and high-class gigolo. The titular “extra man,” Henry spends his days escorting wealthy older women about town, hiding his insecurities in arbitrary companionship.

Kline’s slapstick certainly steals the show, but since The Extra Man rarely makes its punchlines work, his performance easily stands out. Co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini worked with Jonathan Ames (a former New York Press columnist) to adapt his novel, but the script simply dawdles in the absurdity of the tale without allotting much depth to its characters. Louis falls for the equally bland Mary (Katie Holmes), his co-worker at an environmental magazine, while the young man engages in a series of ludicrous social outings with his patronizing elder roommate. John C. Reilly shows up as a zany bearded tenant, speaking in a ridiculous falsetto that’s never funny. Only Klein seems like a good fit for Ames’ satiric portrait of the big city. A highlight reel of his comic bits would make for a much better movie.

The directors initially showed promise with the great documentary-fiction hybrid American Splendor, a moving portrait of the recently deceased cartoonist Harvey Pekar. The distinguishing trait of Pekar’s work was his penchant for turning mundane matters into dark comedies starring himself. Pekar would surely disapprove of the falsity on display in The Extra Man, but he might write a decent comic about the torturous experience of watching it.