Every once in a while—a far too rare occurrence—a screwball comedy comes along that hits more than it misses. The Extra Man is just such a delight.
Belly laughs are few and far between but the overarching tone of silliness deftly underscored by the human experience makes for a largely fulfilling cinematic experience.
Simply put, it’s all about need.
Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline in a made-for-him bravura performance) is in need of cash and companionship (but not love—he’s stronger/wiser than that …). A stable of wealthy dowagers keeps the finances barely in the black and the endearing escort frequently in fine restaurants (including New York City’s famed Russian Tea Room) and Floridian winter homes.
The most recent example comes in the slight, wily form of Vivian Cudlip (Marian Seldes is perfectly cast). She needs both a distinguished looking (whether or not Henry’s socks go below the calves …) gentleman to ferry her through the special occasions of life’s golden years and an extension from the Grim Reaper before he accompanies her to that big ballroom in Hades. (None of the principals are angels.)
To top up non-receipted income, Henry decides to rent out a more or less private extra bedroom. The only “English-speaking applicant” is Louis Ives (composer namesake Charles would readily accept as kin, placing the slender young dreamer onto an equally willowy limb of his family tree).
Louis needs a lot: (a) inexpensive digs (b) a job—preferably as a writer (Henry is also a sometime playwright but needs the return of a much-earlier purloined manuscript to set Broadway ablaze) (c) a fully-formed probing into his ever-present desire to wear “suspendies and a bra”—yet not in the Monty Python sense of farce; Louis really feels he might enjoy being a girl.
The plot—such as it is (Jonathan Ames’ novel has been effectively crafted for the screen by co-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini along with assistance from the author)—teams up the unlikely pair of worldly/emerging men (respectively older/younger) in a whirlwind tour of “gigoloism” and excursions to the tranny side of the tracks. Filling in the narrative blanks is Graeme Malcolm’s droll narration.
Along the way, the vrai odd couple share numerous Invitations to the Dance (best of show is Kline’s unbridled interpretation of a snippet from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony—adding musical and visual reinforcement to the notion of sexual ambiguity) and self-discovery/recovery.
In the supporting roles, John C. Reilly is a full-bearded hoot as script stealer Gershon Gruen, while vegan Mary receives an appropriately affable outing—providing a modicum of sane balance—from Katie Holmes. Louis’ beautiful co-worker is a possible love interest for the lingerie devotee, yet the closest they come to intimacy occurs when Louis pilfers then dons her freshly bought slinky apparel—for steady boyfriend, Brad (Alex Burns). Their needed breakup—“Take me instead”—is just not in the cards.
Funny as many of the scenes are (including a hilarious lesson from Sneaking Into the Opera 101), there’s enough truth just underneath the burbling surface to merit a viewing from anyone in need. JWR