When young persons of letters of the fairly distant future paw through some digital reliquary of the 20th century's best essays, they will find Jonathan Ames bringing up the rear with "I Shit My Pants in the South of France," a screamingly funny bit of oversharing and an indispensable introduction to one of the finest literary flagellants of this or any time. As if to stave off his eventual enshrinement in the BM wing of bygone American letters, Ames has been rather busy not shitting lately: He forayed into graphic novels with The Alcoholic before stuffing his tweedy persona into HBO's Bored to Death, and now he's co-written The Extra Man, based on his own novel of the same name.

Paul Dano stars as Louis Ives, a sad young literary man with an inchoate longing to be a woman or dress like a woman or at the very least scout the penumbral space where guys do such things. After an unfortunate dalliance with a brassiere costs him his prep school teaching job, Louis moves to New York City, where he rents a semblance of a room from failed playwright Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), an imperious bloviator with a part-time gig escorting widowed and otherwise bereft dames to assorted tony affairs.

Although writer-director duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini negotiate the expected narrative turns—Henry presses Louis into his louche milieu as the young Ives pines after a woman he either wants to screw or be—they are mostly content to drift through Ames' anachronistic Manhattan, an analog fabrication that mirrors Louis' own resolutely old-fashioned interior. It's a world where callow youths must resort to finger-staining classifieds and permissive bulletin boards to find their square holes, and it's as precious and hermetic as any Big Plastic Apple Woody Allen or Wes Anderson ever wished into existence. Dano's Brutalist facade of a face is an ideal host for opaque self-loathing, and Kline makes music of Henry's bumptious flights, but The Extra Man is too timid, as careful with itself as Louis is with his incipient appetites. If you've read Ames, you'll know what I mean here: This movie's just not shitty enough.


The Extra Man

opens Hollywood Theatre.