Kevin Kline has returned to the cinema screen with yet another unique character that can only be described as delightfully quirky. The Extra Man, written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini from the novel by Jonathan Ames, is a comedy of manners and antiquarian sweetness. Young Louis Ives, a budding writer and Scott Fitzgerald devotee, moves to Manhattan and rents a room from Henry Harrison, one-time playwright and part-time "extra man". Paul Dano and Kevin Kline (both personal favorites of mine) fill the roles of Louis and Henry with an ease that belies the difficulty of comedic acting. That they succeed is evidenced by my, and the rest of the audience's, continual laughter from one moment to the next in this unusual film. The film plays against your expectations with Henry espousing outrageous opinions that are either antiquated or off-the-wall crazy or both. But, his character is so sincere, and opaque, that you find yourself laughing at statements that can only be described as outrageous. Polite people just don't say things like that, but Henry does.
Paul Dano's character, Louis Ives, is an everyman who tries to unravel Henry's persona with little success. But, what really sparks Louis’ imagination is his new home life. He rents a room in the ramshackle apartment of Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a penniless, wildly eccentric and brilliant playwright. When Henry’s not dancing alone to obscure music or singing operettas, he’s performing – with great panache -- the duties of an “extra man,” a social escort for the wealthy widows of Manhattan high society. The two men develop a volatile mentorship, which leads to a series of urban adventures -- encountering everything from a leaping lion to a wildly jealous hirsute neighbor to drunken nonagenarians to a shady Swiss hunchback.
Along his exploration into the heart of New York City, Henry and Louis have unexpected influences on each other and form a memorable bond that bridges their differences. In part, Paul takes on part of Henry's personality, through a sort of osmosis of character. I found both Louis's imagnative journey and Henry's eclectic character made an entertaining film.