Posted: 01/27/2010

 

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS - THE EXTRA MAN

by Paul Fischer




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Director Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Screenwriter Robert Pulcini, Jonathan Ames, Shari Springer Berman, based on the novel by Jonathan Ames
Cast Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes, Marian Seldes, Celia Weston, Patti D’Arbanville, Dan Hedaya
Producer Anthony Bregman, Stephanie Davis
Cinematographer Terry Stacey
Editor Robert Pulcini
Music Klaus Badelt
Production Designer Judy Becker
Costume Designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb

Few films I have noticed at Sundance have paid as much attention to script as this exquisite adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel The Extra Man. The film’s central character is one Louis Ives, [a perfectly cast Paul Dano], a lonely dreamer who fancies himself the hero of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel while thinking about cross-dressing, an early experiment of which gets him fired from his college job. He then heads to Manhattan to become a writer where he rents a room in the ramshackle apartment of Henry Harrison, [Kevin Kline] a wildly eccentric, but brilliant, playwright who happens to be an “extra man”—a kind of social escort for the wealthy widows of New York’s high society. The two form an unexpected bond that ultimately runs deeper than either one could imagine.

Those familiar with the writer of acerbic novelist Jonathan Ames will realise that his work is insightful, witty and full of rich, almost indefinable characters. Translating him for the screen is not easy but under the hands of the brilliant directing team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who also worked on the script, The Extra Man is one of those rare films in which characters are indelibly and deeply realized and the dialogue brilliantly enhances character and mood. This is a film that requires attention from its audience, to listen to the richness and wit of the dialogue that sparkles through the added interpretation of the film’s flawless cast. Kevin Kline works too rarely in film and seeing his bravura performance in this, one realizes what we miss. Here he is breathtakingly good, powerful, ferociously funny, and boisterous yet masking a quiet, sensitive vulnerability. He is acting at its purest, and he deserves every award possible for this masterful performance. His younger co-star, Paul Dano, is also effortlessly great, reminding one of a young Gene Wilder He beautifully and with great comic subtlety, creates a fascinating, sometimes tragic figure trying to come to terms with his own identity. It’s a superb, beautifully controlled performance. And as an odd down stairs neighbor with a high pitched voice, the wonderful John C. Reilly is extraordinary, who can inject huimour by a mere glance. It’s an ingenious and unforgettable turn from this wonderfully diverse actor.

Under the flawless direction of Shari Springer Berman Robert Pulcini, who crafted the wonderful American Splendor, The Extra Man is a magnificent, moving, hilarious and human work, enhanced by a glorious score by Klaus Badelt and the gorgeous cinematography of Terry Stacey. The Extra Man shines with sharp wit and magnificent performances and one can only hope a wise distributor takes this on.

Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.



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