'The Extra Man': The Return of Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline's gift for erudition, real or imagined, serves him well in The Extra Man.

The Extra Man

Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Cast: Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes
Rated: R
Studio: Magnolia
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-07-30 (Limited release)

Whatever the flaws of The Extra Man, it sure is good to see Kevin Kline on screen again. Kline had a nice run from the mid-'80s into the '90s, applying classical training to buoyant farces like A Fish Called Wanda or Soapdish, but in recent years he's been less visible than peers Steve Martin and Bill Murray. Instead of releasing banjo albums, hosting Saturday Night Live, or leading Wes Anderson movies, Kline has played mostly avuncular and/or professorial types in movies like Orange County (2002) and Definitely, Maybe (2008).

Kline's gift for erudition, real or imagined, serves him well in The Extra Man, as he plays Henry Harrison, a Manhattan resident who's about 20% prince, 80% pauper. Henry lives in a flea-ridden Upper East Side apartment, drives a collapsing Buick, and sometimes paints on socks rather than buying a new pair, but he does get by with a fair amount of escort work. Not whoring, mind you -- he maintains a broad distaste for sexual acts, declaring himself "retired" -- but as a learned, leeching escort for old-money ladies to various social functions.

It's a bit of a ridiculous part, then, but Kline always rises to ridiculousness. He plays Henry with flair, delivering dismissive, faux-intellectual opinions (women should not be allowed to attend college!) and questionable anecdotes (such as his manuscript being stolen by a "Swiss hunchback") with casual authority. He radiates such blasé pomposity that Henry's eccentricities feel real and earned. It helps as well that writer-directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini know a bit about eccentric loners, having adapted American Splendor to the screen.

It does not help, however, that we see Henry through the eyes of a second eccentric loner. His new roommate Louis (Paul Dano) is a sensitive aspiring writer with a taste for F. Scott Fitzgerald and cross-dressing. For reasons loosely explained by his Gatsby fixation, Louis is eager to serve as a protégé of sorts to Henry, who teaches him the fine arts of flattering elderly women, sneaking into the opera, and appearing sophisticated rather than near-impoverished.

Louis breaks from the lifestyle by also holding down an actual job (Henry alludes to a teaching career that we never glimpse and have trouble believing), His toiling at a popular environmental (print!) magazine should be treated as a joke, but it doesn't seem to be. His coworker Mary (Katie Holmes) is similarly ambiguous. It's hard to say whether Holmes' high-voiced affection is satirical, or whether this flighty New York vegan is so honest and pure as she appears.

Next to Mary and Louis' thinness, their awkward imitations of quirkiness, the outward weirdness of Henry, as well as his neighbor Gershon (John C. Reilly), is more substantive, and certainly more entertaining. Berman and Pulcini are obviously warmhearted filmmakers, but this is their second film in a row where sympathy approaches blandness.

Their last excursion to quirky, moneyed Manhattan, The Nanny Diaries, might have chalked up its wan cuteness to uninspired source material or studio interference. The Extra Man comes from a tonier pedigree (a Jonathan Ames novel) and a less restrictive indie studio, yet the cuteness remains: in some scenes, Kline's body language is the only source of wit. Still, The Extra Man may yet have its uses if it can serve as a calling card for Kline, a reminder that this dexterous actor is still around, ready to work, and aging gracefully without vanity.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.