Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Movie a day, Day 79: The Extra Man

I gave The Extra Man a try last night because I loved American Splendor, a portrait of another eccentric writer co-directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. I guess I should have paid more attention to the source material. American Splendor's Harvey Pekar looked through his own and other people's eccentricities, acknowledging them in passing but focusing on deeper and more interesting things. Jonathan Ames, the co-screenwriter of The Extra Man and author of the book it's based on, seems mostly interested in the thrill of transgression, defying taboos and examining eccentricity for its own sake.

The extra man of the title is Henry Harrison, a self-styled aristocrat who ekes out his subsistence existence partly by cadging off rich old women, who want him at the dinner table to fill in the places left by their deceased mates and to provide "joie de vivre," as he puts it. Henry has been hiding from the world for decades, it seems, ever since his promising youth as a playwright faded into anonymous middle age, and he's developed an arsenal of bigoted pronouncements and other annoying traits that are pretty successful at keeping people, including me, at bay. It doesn't help that he's played by Kevin Kline, who has developed his own array of annoying traits over the years. On screen, Kline exudes a preening sense of bottomless self-regard that makes his characters feel a little hollow and narcissistic. That works wonderfully in comedies where his character's unjustified self-regard is part of the joke, like in Soapdish and A Fish Called Wanda. But I think we're supposed to empathize with histrionic head case Henry Harrison, and I just couldn't do it. Read the rest on The House Next Door, Slant Magazine's blog.

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