One of the strange (or maybe entirely normal) things I do is occasionally narrate my life. I’m not entirely sure why I do this, and the story is never more interesting than “Mark walked briskly passed the lady with shopping bags in front of him, crossing the road without breaking stride.” However, perhaps such narrating gives a sense of order and structure to a world than is often so lacking in these things.
The main character in The Extra Man shares that trait with me, although one of his other idiosyncrasies: his fascination with cross-dressing, I have yet to try out.
Paul Dano plays Louis, who decides to move to Manhattan to ‘find himself’ after an embarrassing incident involving a woman’s brassiere caused him to be let go as a teacher at Princeton.
When looking for a place to stay in New York, he finds Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline) – once a screenwriter, now an Extra Man: someone wealthy widows can call on to be their dates at dinner parties, etc.
Their relationship, which has smatterings of friendship, a strong dose of paternal, and more than a hint of sexual tension, forms the heart of the movie: as Henry introduces Louis to high society life in Manhattan.
Primarily this a movie about finding yourself: your identity. In many ways Dano is trying to move from ‘Extra Man’ to the ‘Leading Man’ in the story of his life.
Having tried teaching, Dano’s wish is to become a writer. However, his fascination with cross-dressing, his need to be accepted and his lack of confidence in himself seem to be getting in the way.
His character is very flawed, but you can’t help but get behind his journey with its highs, lows and embarrassments along the way. There’s a sense the audience is just as unsure of who Louis is, as he is himself. And joining him on that adventure allows the film to draw you into its world in a really engaging way.
The other characters initially all appear to be very one-dimensional. Henry, in particular, comes across as an eccentric old-timer whose chauvinist views come straight from the 1920s. However, as we spend more time with each of them, we see they’re far more complicated than that. And the movie does a great job of interlacing little character moments amongst the chaos that is happening on screen.
There’s a lot of charm and warmth in this movie, and even though some of the characters seem to come from another planet at times, you still can’t help but be drawn into the emotion of everything that’s happening to them. I realise these ‘hipster’ independent movies might not be to everyone’s tastes. However, I think The Extra Man has a strange enchanting quality that many, who don’t normally like this type of film, will be won over by.