Friday, July 30, 2010

Arrogant Sycophants: The Extra Man

Louis Ives is such a man of letters, the English professor even has his own personal narrator. Unfortunately, his story is rather dull, even when he joins a non-stop parade of quirkiness in Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman mannered comedy of manners The Extra Man (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Given his love of literature, particularly F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ives is perfectly suited for his teaching position in a small elite college. Unfortunately, he blows it when he momentarily succumbs to his troubling urge to cross-dress. Of course, after a scandal like that, there is only one place to go: hello New York City.

Ives quickly learns how nightmarish the housing market is here, reluctantly accepting a share with the arrogant eccentric extraordinaire Henry Harrison. The proudly prudish Harrison more or less lives hand-to-mouth, but he finagles his way into the parties and summer houses of Manhattan’s famously wealthy as a so-called “extra man,” a younger, non-threatening escort for rich widows. Ives at least has a pseudo-real job working for an environmental magazine, though it hardly seems like any real work gets done there. It is just an excuse to introduce him to his unattainable dream girl Mary. Despite his many issues, Ives allows himself to get sucked into Harrison’s world of chaste suck-uppery. If nothing else, he learns a few good tricks from Harrison for sneaking into the opera.

Adapted by Jonathan Ames (creator of HBO’s Bored to Death) from his own novel, Extra probably would have been far more satisfying as a short subject rather than a feature. Yet, the film is conspicuously padded with superfluous walking and driving scenes, stretching out a rather thin story arc. Kevin Kline is indeed perfectly cast as Harrison, the pompous social climber, delivering his witticisms with panache. However, the dreary and unconvincing character of Louis Ives, played by a seemingly half-asleep Paul Dano, just deflates the movie in scene after scene. Granted she is an environmental “journalist,” but the film glams down Katie Holmes’s Mary somewhat excessively, frankly making her rather plain looking and utterly charmless.

In truth, Extra is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Yes, there are some droll moments, but too much of the film is dedicated to Ives’s agonizing search for himself. Also, apart from the opera gag, the film never truly grounds itself in its New York location, merely using the City as a backdrop for the characters’ constant drifting about. Although not offensive per se, Extra just does not linger in one’s consciousness after it ends. For Ames admirers, it opens today (6/30) in New York at the Angelika.