Movie review: ‘The Extra Man’ skates by on Kevin Kline’s charming gigolo turn
In gentler, more genteel times, Kevin Kline’s shabby but dapper character in the pixilated, New York-centric social comedy “The Extra Man” would have been referred to as a gigolo.
A spiffy dresser with a dry wit, elegant tastes on a threadbare budget and a wry, world-weary aspect on the opposite sex (and sex in general), Kline’s foppish Henry Harrison is a throwback to a simpler era – when Manhattan boulevards harbored scads of eccentric characters who seemed to step full-blown out of short pieces in the New Yorker magazine. Indeed, you can easily imagine Henry hobnobbing with the magazine’s iconic, top hat and monocle-wearing man-about-town Eustace Tilley.
“The Extra Man” is an overly earnest exercise in whimsy drawn from a quirky coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Ames and adapted to the screen by co-directors-writers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, makers of the splendid “American Splendor.” But where that 2003 film fairly bristled with sharp, trenchant flourishes of humor and drama, this one merely feels gratuitously offbeat and vaudevillian.
The story is constructed as a light mentor piece in which Henry, a sometime college literature professor, Christmas ball collector and raconteur, takes a boarder into his crummy New York apartment. The new roomie is young Louis Ives (Paul Dano), an aspiring novelist from New Jersey who was recently cashiered from a tony prep-school teaching post due to his predilection for cross-dressing.
Henry, who moonlights as an “extra man” (a male escort for wealthy society dames who need a suave gent at their sides for operas, Russian Tea Room luncheons, gallery openings, etc.), grudgingly takes this fey young novice under his wing and determines to show him the ins and outs of living a luxe New York life on a pauper’s budget.
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