IFF Boston: The Extra Man

23 April 2010, 3:43 pm

Once again, I’m going to try to do capsule reviews of all the films I see as part of Independent Film Festival Boston. Here’s the first.

A remark in the entertaining and informative post-screening Q&A by co-writer/co-director Robert Pulcini (along with Shari Springer Berman, half of the husband-and-wife writer/director team behind the terrific Harvey Pekar flick American Splendor) crystallized my slight misgivings about this movie: he said he loved Jonathan Ames’ novel so much that when adapting it for the screen, he crammed in some of of his favorite lines out of context. I think this contributes to the film feeling like it’s working very hard to be quirky with a capital Q — as if it’s shooting for prime Wes Anderson, but winds up feeling more like Darjeeling Express, or maybe Garden State. I liked it, but I would have liked it more if it been just a touch more restrained and naturalistic.

Regardless, Kevin Kline is a lot of fun to watch as unwilling mentor Henry Harrison, in a performance that reminded me of Falstaff (a role Kline has played) or a less dark Henry Fool. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood) is an excellent foil and portrays the hapless Louis Ives with consummate awkwardness, but not so broadly as to lose all humanity.

And The Extra Man convinced me that I should acquaint myself with some of Jonathan Ames’ prose. If that was its goal, it certainly succeeded with me.

***

Kline was also vigorous, smart, and very funny in the Q&A session, responding to audience questions with refreshing candor. His reaction to learning that the artist who fabricated the “Lifetime Achievement Award” that IFF Boston presented him with went by the name “Skunk” was quite extraordinary.

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