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IN SHORT: Depending on your taste, as strange as it is brilliant. [Rated R for some sexual content. 108 minutes]
There are films made intent on finding a place at the decidedly local arthouse, fully pretentious in conception and intent. These are the kinds of films lauded by the critics that are fully formed in film school. They are also the kind of films we rail against, and have for well over fifteen years.
Then there are arthouse friendly films like The Extra Man, which are just flat out strange.
]Lewis Ives (Paul Dano) was once a teacher at a boys school in Princeton. But an appreciation for ladies underthings cost him that position in the first scenes of this film. So enough of that. Young Lewis settles in Manhattan, putting his teaching days behind him to work selling advertising at an "eco-friendly journal" where the lovely Mary Powell (Katie Holmes) has caught his eye. She has a boyfriend, Brad (Alex Burns), so that is never going to happen, right?
Lewis likes Manhattan but Manhattan, being the very expensive place to live that it is, is almost impossible to live in when all you have in the bank is some pitiful savings from a pitifully paid career as a teachr, and the prospect of commissions from selling advertising (meaning, for those of you that have never worked on commission: Many weeks of earning squat. Nothing. Nada.)
So Lewis does what all eager young 'uns tend to do in Manhattan. He gets a copy of the Village Voice and checks the classified ads for Roommates Wanted. Long story short, he will share an apartment with the much older, decidedly eccentric playwright and self-designated aristocrat Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline). Henry's greatest work as a playwright was stolen by a Swiss midget with a humped back. It remains unproduced and unseen, all these years later.
More importantly, roommate Henry has determined to educate young Lewis in the fine ways of becoming a "walker" -- a male escort to older, wealthier women who require squiring to the opera and to art gallery openings and similar high brow events like concerts at Carnegie Hall and dinner at the adjacent Russian Tea Room.
Being a "walker" is not about sex. We'll let the film explain that layer of Kline's character. We will report that said walking (sic) means learning how to supply companions with roasted chicken as well as how to piss in the street without attracting attention. Trust us, by the time you get to this particular event, which is not played for laughs, the weirdness of this film should have grabbed on. For you have entered a world in which all characters live as if they are part of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby". Their individual success in life is marked by the wealth of the people they sponge off of. There is certainly a sense that Henry may be a gigolo, and that Lewis is being set upon that path. Said questions are addressed in the script and story so don't worry about any of that plebian nonsense.
Henry's former roommate is Gershon (John C. Reilly) who now lives in an apartment in Henry's building. He is a subway mechanic who loves sailing. He also has an extraordinarily high pitched voice, an extraordinarily full beard and a deep, full boded singing voice. Henry has a woman friend named Vivian (Marian Seldes) -- elderly and very, very rich -- and she has a niece she want to fix Lewis up with. In the meantime, there is lunch at the Russian Tea Room with Iranian friends who want their country back. Who believe that Vivian can "fix" their problems with the financing generated by the wave of her little finger.
Henry has a grand collection of ornaments for a Christmas tree -- Christmas balls, if you will. Henry loves his balls, so to speak. He also drives an a ratty old Buik Elektra with Florida plates that come in handy when he makes the seasonal trip to Palm Beach. The car is his life but, after an evening trying to woo an elder Fifth Avenue bastion and secure habitation in a spare room in her Palm Beach manse for the winter, said car drops dead. Henry remembers that he, and Gershon, saw an available car for sale out in Southampton. It is a blatant request for a ride to the end of Long Island in Lewis' car and a road trip is undertaken! The car is a Cadillac. The trio make the trip but stuff ensues and Henry takes a bus to the promised land of Florida.
Left alone, of course, Lewis isn't necessarily "in to" wooing the elderly. He does dream of becoming a Young Gentleman such as you might read about in anything by the aforementioned Fitzgerald -- and the film is narrated in appropriate style by Brit Graeme Malcolm. Lewis becomes, though, a dandy in the Underworld (at least according to the closing song, a classic rock ditty by the late Marc Bolan of T-Rex.) He patronizes a woman "in to" the bondage arts, such as those do that run classified ads in the back of the also aforementioned Village Voice. He takes his time apart from Henry to patronize a restaurant in which transvestites serve as waitpersons. He's told he would make a beautiful trannie and on the way out of said restaurant he passes a board which offers certain, uh, personal grooming services . . .
That is not as weird as it sounds. There is such a place in Manhattan restaurant and we've been there -- we had a gay boss way back at the start of the Internet era and he'd take the staff out for dinner. Hey, when you're poor, you don't necessarily argue when someone else picks up the check. That said, we don't know anyone who picked up a phone number of a person who will do makeup and hair for trannies in training . . . as Lewis will do . . .
For Lewis wants to look like Mary. [and so we move into the Land of Strange.]
Lewis doesn't come close but with his Great Disappointment comes the Great Revelation that there is no woman inside dying to get out. Feeling more like a man than ever -- dressed like a woman, mind you -- Lewis makes a pass at the makeup artist. Bad move. In walks Henry, for Vivian has died. Henry is not thrilled with what he has walked in on. Lewis, obviously, has some issues. And, though the essential Words of Life, according to Henry Harrison: "So. there we are. Where are we?" Henry knows that he needs a new roommate.
Wouldn't you know it, just as Lewis' personal preferences are caught in a maelstrom of his own making, Mary decides that, as she owes him a couple of favors, maybe Lewis isn't such a bad pick at all.
As we wrote above, sometimes the films are just weird. Those who prefer the arthouse above all else will be pestering blogs to nominate Kevin Kline for an Oscar. [It doesn't work like that but thanks anyways <g>] Everyone else should, at minimum, wait and rent.
]On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Extra Man, he would have paid . . .
Yes, we know that 99 per cent of our readership has already decided not to see this film. Those who are looking for the usual drop dead performance by Kevin Kline will not be disappointed. They will be equally pleased by the support offered up by John C. Reilly. We haven't seen Paul Dano on screen before, at least that we can remember. He gives the film foundation and doesn't get in the way. For actors, that's a great compliment.
The Extra Man opens July 30 in New York and Santa Ana, Calif.; Aug. 6 in Berkeley, Calif., and Los Angeles; Aug. 13 in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, New Haven, Palm Springs, CA, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle; Aug. 20 in Atlanta, Denver, Hartford, Conn., Philadelphia, Portland, OR, Santa Fe, and Washington; and Aug. 27 in Detroit, Gainesville, FL, and St. Louis, with more cities to follow. Also available on-demand from Direct TV, Dish Network and Amazon.
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