I wouldn't classify "The Extra Man" as particularly motivated, but it definitely reaches for a level of eccentricity that's just barely within its grasp. It's a character piece, adapted from the novel by Jonathan Ames, delivered in an iffy fashion from filmmakers unsure of what they hope to achieve from such roving storytelling. Still, there's a satisfying range of actors presented here who don't exactly provide comfort, but they have a heck of a time feeling around the film for peculiar character beats.
Louis Ives (Paul Dano) has been fired from his collegiate teaching position, pushing the meek, literary-minded soul to try out New York City for a fresh start. Finding a roommate in failed playwright Henry (Kevin Kline), Louis soon becomes fascinated with the older man, studying his peculiarities, growing obsessed with his job as an escort for older women. Dealing with his own secret sexual tastes and a fixation on his co-worker, Mary (Katie Holmes), Louis looks to Henry to provide a sense of guidance, enchanted by the chaos of his finicky roommate's life, looking to one day possess the same screwy self-confidence.
As the minds that drove the idiosyncratic 2003 feature, "American Splendor," directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini bring a similar colorful energy to "The Extra Man," once again surveying the life of eccentrics on the verge of collapse. Aiming for something in the area of a black comedy, the filmmakers turn the picture into an episodic event, following Louis as his eyes are opened to possibilities of a life lived without inhibitions, led around by a possible liar and lousy womanizer drowning in his heavily practiced malarkey.
Setting a consistent tone isn't what "Extra Man" is trying to do. It's a wandering piece, looking to cherry pick the best conflicts and surprises for the characters, but I was never convinced the film had a sense of humor, or much of anything for that matter. Instead, it's a parade of oddity without much of an emotional hook on which to hang the outpouring of excessive behavior. The only real subplot that shows consistency in purpose belongs to Louis, who struggles with his urge to cross-dress, taking baby steps through hookers (a nice turn from Patti D'Arbanville) and transvestite make-up artists to find his true self, though fearful of what he might find. The bra-snatching excursion makes good use of Dano's colorless screen presence, while supplying the film with an extended, convincing depiction of inner turmoil. The rest of the film only asks its characters to float in and out of the story, leaving little substance to click into.
As usual, Kline is memorable as the daffy roomie, keeping the hectic spirit of the film elevated while the filmmakers scramble to find something to say. Also contributing to the randomness wonderfully is John C. Reilly, here as a heavily bearded, intimidating pal of Henry's, soon revealed to be in possession of a particularly squeaky voice. The actors do make a pleasant impression with their articulation of quirk, getting the film out of a few tight spots of stasis with their ability to surprise.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio) highlights some rather accelerated skintones, with lead Dano looking especially pink through the presentation. Colors in general are pronounced, bringing out the city life quite well, giving a special spark to blue skies and neon lights. Some EE is detected, and the image looks smoothed over to remove visual grit, but the overall presentation permits the faux regality of the characters a chance to shine against dilapidated locales.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix deals with scoring cues elegantly, holding the symphonic support in the surrounds to assist the picture's tonal changes. Atmospherics are healthy, digging into street life and apartment nuances with success. Dialogue is pushed up front and always remains crisp, with exchanges easy to follow. Soundtrack cuts are used to startling effect at times, feeling natural to the listening experience. A 2.0 track is also available.
Spanish subtitles are included.
The feature-length audio commentary with co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, production designer Judy Becker, costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, and moderator Lisa Collins is a solid group effort, with everyone generously offering their thoughts on the making of the film. It's not just technical challenges here, but a discussion of the various locations, and how places in the movie helped to define characters and inspire the filmmakers. Plenty of amusing stories are passed around, most centered on Kline's peculiar method behavior and dedication to the job at hand. The track is a consistent delight, supplying the right mix of info and playful conversation.
A second commentary brings actor Kevin Kline and author Jonathan Ames together to discuss the picture. Two men of exceedingly dry wit, the pair supply a cheeky take on the challenges of adaptation. Less concerned with direct commentary, Kline and Ames wander about, picking apart the on-screen minutiae. The track is agreeable, but far less focused than the first commentary.
"Deleted Scene" (1:53) offers a teary Mary, who's upset about the public toilet shortage for the homeless.
"Cartoon Clip Voiceover Recording" (:41) showcase Bruce Winant and Jennifer Perito and their sound booth efforts to voice animated duck love for the film.
"Behind the Score Footage" (8:25) sits down with composers Klaus Badelt and Christopher Carmichael, who explore the themes of the film and their musical inspirations.
"HDNet" A Look at 'The Extra Man'" (4:20) is a making-of commercial for the feature, using interviews with cast and crew to convey the story and passions of the characters.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"The Extra Man" is easy to endure, but it doesn't leave a lasting impression, despite a story that almost demands discomfort from the viewer. It's never openly engaging, but there's a certain mischief to the piece that pleases.
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