Movie review: ‘The Extra Man’

Kevin Kline’s prissy, stentorian-voiced Henry Harrison, a playwright manqué who lives in a seedy apartment in a Manhattan brownstone, explains to his new roommate, Louis ( Paul Dano), that he is an “extra man” who has cultivated the city’s richest widowed grande dames and won a place at their tables and sometimes their Palm Beach guest rooms. What lifts him above a mere “walker,” he says, is his “wit, intelligence and uncommon joie de vivre.”

An enigmatic eccentric, Henry does in fact possess these qualities, and the deft ways in which Kline mines the comic valor in the man anchors writers-directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman’s wryly comic “The Extra Man.” Adapted from the Jonathan Ames novel, the film is too precious around the edges, but it gets somewhere. Henry may be its dominating presence, but the film is Louis’ story — of how a shy, troubled young man, thrown in the company of oddballs and strong personalities that capture his imagination, at last works out his identity.

While Henry remains an enigma to the end — Was he once rich? Unlucky in love? — Louis has come to admire and be inspired by his courage to be himself; and all that matters to him is to discover whether Henry can truly give his friendship. There’s splendid support from Katie Holmes as a sweet-natured, dedicatedly vegan secretary at an environmental magazine where Louis has found a low-level job; and John C. Reilly as Gershon, a brilliant, falsetto-voiced, shaggy-haired and long-bearded subway mechanic.

“The Extra Man” isn’t in the same league as Pulcini and Berman’s landmark “American Splendor” with Paul Giamatti as the late Harvey Pekar, but it has its moments — especially in its evocation of the sense that New York offers a greater sense of security for brave yet vulnerable individualists the way a sprawling, amorphous and transient city like Los Angeles rarely can.

“The Extra Man.” MPAA rating: R for some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At selected theaters.