English students of all stripes have written many a term paper about Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby.” They often wonder, if the book is about Gatsby, why did Fitzgerald choose to have a young, socially awkward, milquetoast Everyman narrate? Wouldn’t it be easier to just have Gatsby explain his own thoughts and feelings?
The truth is, Fitzgerald did have Gatsby narrate in early drafts, but it didn’t feel right. That’s because almost everyone in the story “ from Gatsby to Daisy to Tom “ are all slightly insane. We need Carraway to act as our interpreter in their crazy-rich world; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone.
Screening Thursday to Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, “The Extra Man” references “Gatsby” in its very first scene, making sure we understand that Louis (Paul Dano, “Knight and Day”) is our Carraway, an unreliable narrator who will serve as our guide in another alternate world populated with kooky people. Louis isn’t as vanilla as Carraway (he has a minor sexual kink), but he will be just as transformed by his adventures among the unhinged.
After being laid off from teaching at a prep school, he moves to Manhattan to find himself and start a writing career. In the big city, he answers an ad for a “gentleman looking for same” to share a small apartment. Louis finds Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline, “The Tale of Despereaux”) and, after a short interview and some thinking time, agrees to move in.
Louis soon finds that Henry isn’t quite what he seems. While he dresses, speaks and acts like an upper-class socialite, and refers to himself as a playwright and an aristocrat, Henry has fleas, scavenges for his food and entertainment, and offers himself to wealthy old women as their “extra man.” He’s not quite a gigolo, but he’s not quite not one, either. Louis soon becomes entangled with Henry’s social dalliances, accompanying him to events where they mingle with the rich and their hangers-on.
In the meantime, Louis gets a job at an environmentally friendly magazine and develops a crush on his co-worker Mary (Katie Holmes, “Mad Money”). Unfortunately, Mary is about as deep as a sheet of cling film, and doesn’t appreciate his inherent kindness. Instead, she exploits it for her own gain.
While the story is interesting and the characters are somewhat compelling, everyone’s spending way too much time being as quirky as humanly possible. Even John C. Reilly (“Cyrus”), who almost never fails to elevate a movie, comes off as purely ridiculous “ almost gimmicky “ as Gershon, Louis and Harrison’s downstairs neighbor.
There a definite feeling that “Extra Man” directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are trying to recapture the offbeat charm that made their former effort, “American Splendor,” such a treat. However, instead of giving us the nudging bewilderment of Harvey Pekar (God bless and keep him), the overall tone comes off as Wes Anderson-lite. “Mike Robertson