Larry David is one of the great comedic forces of our age. His fingerprints are instantly recognizable on any one of his projects (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm), and he has earned the right to be as caustic as he wants on any project that he wants, no matter how very underwhelming it is. Clear History is a film made for HBO, and stars David along with a veritable stable of quality talent in this comedy about a man who threw a fortune away over a minute detail. Greg Mottola directs a cast consisting of Jon Hamm, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, Kate Hudson, Eva Mendes, Philip Baker Hall, J.B. Smoove, and Liev Schreiber alongside the inimitable Larry David.
Nathan Flomm (Larry David as a variation of Larry David) had it all: a job all but guaranteed to make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, an attractive girlfriend, and a glorious mane of hair. He also had a mouth and a stubborn streak. The latter two cost him the first three, and he became both a disgrace and a laughingstock. His decision to jump ship and give up ten percent of a surefire money-maker may have been idiotic, but, to be fair, naming an electric car “the Howard” is pretty stupid no matter what Ayn Rand novel his boss, Will Haney (Jon Hamm), had taken it from. Flomm’s towering mistake led to his public humiliation: he was laughed out of coffee shops and made fodder for late-night monologues. Faced with the relentlessness of the public’s scorn, he disappears.
Ten years later, Nathan lives in the idyllic Martha’s Vineyard, goes by Rolly, and has traded in high profile marketing gigs for being the caretaker of an old woman even more unpleasant than himself. His life lacks the glamour and the importance it did before, but he is happy. He plays poker with his friends, he is on good terms with his ex-girlfriend, and he seems content to wile away his remaining years in the comforting embrace of obscurity.
Then, Will Haney moved to town and everything changes. All the bad memories and resentment bubbling beneath the surface become Nathan’s primary motivators once more, and his mind becomes focused on one thing: revenge. He drafts the help of his best friend (Danny McBride) and a couple of crazed locals (Michael Keaton and Bill Hader) in his plot to destroy the grandiose new home Haney has built. Nathan also manages to befriend Haney’s wife (Kate Hudson) and seeks to woo her away from her chiseled husband.
Larry David shines while playing a(nother) modified version of himself, but his reassuring sort of unpleasantness can only do so much to elevate this movie beyond being a sterling example of a bloated cast. So many roles are filled by actors of various levels of star power, it becomes both distracting and detracting. Worst of all, there is not an actor here, aside from David, Hamm, and maybe Smoove, who doesn’t have their talents wasted by virtue of a lack of development and the inherent superfluity of so many of their roles.
Clear History is just a case of a bunch of celebrities getting together to have a good time with each other by being politically-incorrect and engaging in a bit of improvisation (without the quality of, say, This Is the End). If this made for television film sounds a lot like an extended episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you would not be even a little bit off base. The problem with Clear History, however, is that it just isn’t very good. It is overstuffed, indulgent, and in desperate need of someone to go through it and trim all the fat, and Clear History is mostly fat. This is a shorter review than normal because I just can’t think of aspects of this film legitimately warranting discussion, and that is a bad sign.
Anyways, I guess I will list some random observations to pad this out.
- Larry David’s epic hair worked for me.
- Liev Schreiber, Danny McBride, Larry David, and Jon Hamm are all leads on television series currently.
- Apparently the band Chicago still exists.
- Michael Keaton is still weird as hell.
- What was the point of hiring Eva Mendes if you aren’t going to have her look like Eva Mendes?
- I agree with Jon Hamm about seersucker jackets. This makes me happy.