December 16, 2010 -- Kevin Kline won an Academy Award for playing a crazy comic character in “A Fish Called Wanda” and once again plays a crazy comic character in “The Extra Man.” He clearly has a gift for this. Kline heads up a talented trio of actors, all playing extremely quirky characters who are borderline pathological, but funny and harmless, personalities. They all live in the same apartment building in New York City, and on the far fringes of society. They move in social circles most people aren't even aware of.
Paul Dano of “Little Miss Sunshine” plays Louis Ives, a cross-dressing teacher who wants to be a writer. When his fascination with female clothing gets him kicked out of his high end teaching job, he decides to head for New York City where he hopes to be a writer. Answering an advertisement for a roommate, he meets the extremely odd Henry Harrison (Kline) who talks him into taking a room in a run-down apartment building. The misogynist ic Harrison likes shiny Christmas balls, dances early in the morning for exercise, holds every politically-incorrect view conceivable and has no visible means of support. He also has fleas. He is very manipulative, and often impolite, yet somehow likeable.
In the downstairs apartment lives the mysterious Gershon Gruen (John C. Reilly of “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant”) a subway mechanic who dreams of sailing a yacht to Europe, but, he's never been anywhere. He looks like one might imagine Rasputin to look like, with his curly hair and beard running wild in all directions. He looks like a mad prophet, but sounds like a castrato, except when he sings. Then, and only then, he has a normal-sounding voice. Henry introduces Louis to a very tiny segment of New York high society. He is an escort to quirky, elderly, rich women who hang out in chintzy historic places like the Russian Tea Room. Henry and Louis are two of many hangers on in this branch of high society where everyone has eyes on the money these widows have. Henry is trying to wangle a room in Florida for the winter from one of these wealthy widows. He had one lined up, but offended the widow and now must seek another opportunity.
Louis fits in with this branch of high society because he loves the period of history when some of these widows grew up, the gilded age of F. Scott Fitzgerald's writings. Louis imagines himself often in women's clothing, but also in the age depicted in “The Great Gatsby.” Louis fights his darker urges, but finally gives into them. In one calamitous scene, he has a revelation of sorts about his own masculinity, or lack thereof. In addition to his other hangups, he is also hung up on a pretty, but flaky, co-worker, Mary Powell (Katie Holmes of “Thank You for Smoking”). It turns out, however, that Louis seems to fit in best with Gershon, Henry and the old widows. He has found a tiny flake of New York City that suits him, at least for now.
The three main actors in the film are great, and the supporting actors are also very good. The story isn't hilarious, but it is warmly funny and extremely charming. The characters are all wonderfully well portrayed. This is a memorable film that will cheer you up when you need cheering, and that is priceless. This film rates a B.
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