I couldn’t have enjoyed my time at the movies more than I did last night when my girlfriend and I spontaneously decided to pop into the little theater we happened to walk past just after seven, noticing that The Extra Man was starting in less than 10 minutes, a movie whose movie trailer looked charming enough so why not take a chance since odds are we never would’ve made specific plans to go to the movie if we had been at home looking through the Now Showing section of Moviefone.
I’m so glad we did because The Extra Man is an absolute gem.
Never mind that I absolutely hate planning just about anything so I was excited enough to just do something completely spontaneous, this delightful movie about a couple of oddballs had pitch-perfect performances and was loaded with more laugh-out-loud moments than just about any movie has had all year. (I have yet to see The Other Guys, yet, but I still think this has a shot.)
(I should warn viewers that below will be some spoilers since I will say what’s not in the film, which are the sorts of things that you would be expecting to see. I think if you read on, you’ll still thoroughly enjoy the movie because it’s excellent, moving, and highly entertaining because of the lack of these common movie tropes. You’ll still have to see the movie to find out for yourself what the movie really is about then. Either way, I’ve given you fair warning so don’t blame me.)
Besides being surprised at how much I was both laughing and smiling (it was just a ridiculously enjoyable movie to watch even when jokes and funny situations weren’t happening), the story had soul. And that soul came in the form of Lewis Ives — masterfully played by Paul Dano, who truly is becoming one of his generation’s most solid, if quirky, performers — whose unique arc didn’t involve winning over the cute girl at work (ably portrayed by the flighty Katie Holmes), even though it could’ve gone that way easily. And it didn’t involve figuring out the mystery behind Kevin Kline’s Henry Harrison — in a surely award-nominations-awaiting performance — a bizarre Manhattanite who makes a non-living as the titular extra man, although he goes even further as to be an essential man (so he says), to the wealthy widows of New York City… and West Palm Beach.
This should be used as a case study in film school as precisely how to externalize a predominantly internal struggle. (It helps to have an actor as capable as Dano, but the script truly makes it happen with its rich character development and the use of tough-to-pull-off-but-fantastic-when-you-do voice-over narration.)
So — no love story, no final reveal at the end as to the reason for Harrison’s intriguing oddness, no obvious scene where the comedy ends and the dramatic point of the antics gets told to us blatantly.
And it’s so good.
And that’s why it’ll never break the mainstream. It’s clear to me now why the movie doesn’t have a wide release and is only playing at tiny art-house theaters like that one that I happened upon last night randomly and thankfully.
People like their familiar movie tropes, their cinematic constants. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and learns something valuable in the process. I never once worried that The Extra Man was going to take that routine journey; it seemed to forge its own path from the first frame, a path that I knew wouldn’t feel hollow or leave me feeling ambivalent.
For those who see it, you will be rewarded with a surprisingly fulfilling storyline that is as simple as it is satisfying, both for us viewers, and the stunningly brought-to-life characters who take us there.