The Extra Man

Posted on July 31, 2013

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What do you get when you case Kevin Kline as an eccentric gigolo, Paul Dano as a cross-dressing aspiring playwright, and John C. Reilly as a hirsute poet?

If you answered, “A comedy,” you’d be dead right.

 

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Verdict

While it’s not hilariously funny, The Extra Man has heart, and that counts for a lot.

 

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Louis Ives (Paul Dano) gets fired from his job as a schoolteacher and moves to New York to achieve his dreams as a playwright. While looking for a place to live, he comes across Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), an eccentric and opinionated man who lives off very elderly women, wooing them in hopes of being remembered in their wills.

Louis is a naïf. He knows how to survive, but not how to live. Henry would be locked in an asylum, except that he’s not a danger to anyone. He’s just nuts.

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This is a coming of age movie for Louis. He must confront parts of himself that he has hidden away for years. He must learn to succeed outside the academic world. Most of all, he must learn to accept others as they are, and to demand that they show him the same respect.

Another thing that I enjoyed is that most of the characters felt like real people who had real reasons for behaving the way they did – no matter how bizarre that behavior appeared.

The movie’s structure will pleasantly surprise you, as it ups the personal ante for Louis and Henry, until they reach a believable climactic moment. I did not feel cheated by the denouement, either. It felt real and messy and human.

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I mentioned in my verdict that this movie has heart. I have complained recently, both here and over at Forces of Geek, about movies and TV shows that lack heart.

For example, I criticized a number of new television shows for needing to find the humanity at the center of the story in order to survive, or to get me to watch.

When I reviewed The Expendables, I called it “heartless, manipulative, and derivative.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good action movie. I think The A-Team and The Losers were terrific. I’ve seen every Mission: Impossible movie in the theater. But heart does make a difference. It elevates a movie to another state. I liked The A-Team more than The Expendables because I felt the relationships between the characters were clear, and important. I like a lot of old John Wayne movies because the relationships between the characters are important. Their motivations are important.

 

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The Extra Man was a refreshing change from a lot of the current crop of entertainment, because so much care obviously went into finding and expressing the humanity of the characters, and finding their all too human emotional cores.

This is a comedy about relationships and characters. If you like those, and you like watching Kevin Kline chew the scenery, this is a must for you.

 

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If you only know Paul Dano from There Will Be Blood, check out some of his other work, including this and Little Miss Sunshine.

But don’t see Gigantic unless you have a high tolerance for manic pixie dream girls (in this case, Zoey Deschanel).

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Posted in: Movies