A film review by Craig J. Koban August 15, 2013
2013, No MPAA rating, 116 mins.
Larry David as Nathan Flomm / Jon Hamm as Will Haney / Bill Hader as Rags / Philip Baker Hall as McKenzie / Kate Hudson as Rhonda / Michael Keaton as Joe Stumpo / Danny McBride as Frank / Eva Mendes as Jennifer / Amy Ryan as Wendy / J. B. Smoove as Jaspar
Directed by Greg Mottola / Written by Larry David, Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer
HBO films’ CLEAR HISTORY is a frequently hysterical comedy about a ridiculously prideful man that – after a catastrophic error in judgment on his part – desperately attempts to hide himself from a world that knows him primarily because of his blunder.
It began, I
have read, as a 30-page outline by Larry David, whom of course worked on
TV’s SEINFELD and more recently on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, with
collaboration by that latter show’s writers Alex Berg, David Mandel, and
Jeff Schaffer. Apparently,
they all gave the actors in CLEAR HISTORY the basic concept of the story, but nonetheless
never gave the performers any specific dialogue to learn or recite, thusly
allowing for them to make it up as they went.
CLEAR HISTORY does feel perhaps a bit too scattershot for its own
good at times, but it makes up for it in terms of the amusing
improvisational heights that David and his star-studded cast attain
of all is that we get to see David in all of his…shall we
say…cantankerous, nitpicky, and deeply confrontational about every
little thing best, as nobody perhaps plays such loveable and perpetually grumpy
losers quite like him. David
harnesses his quintessential Davidness in CLEAR HISTORY playing Nathan, a
long-haired and bearded hippie type that looks more like a homeless man in
a Hawaiian shirt that a marketing genius, but beyond his grubby façade
lies a shrewd and cunning West Coast advertising guru.
He is about to work on a campaign for the proverbial car of the
future, which is going to revolutionize electric automobile technology in
hopefully the same manner that the Ford Model T did for cars a
century ago. The electric car is the
business brainchild of David’s boss, Will (John Hamm, no stranger to the
men world) who just happens to love his son, wife, and the Ayn Rand novel
the big problem with Nathan: He has no tact or sense of business decorum.
When Will has a big ad meeting and unveils that the name of his car will be – ahem! – “The Howard” (also his son’s name and the
name of the protagonist in THE FOUNTAINHEAD), this sends Nathan in a
wild-eyed and crazy fury. “Nobody’s
gonna buy a car named Howard,” he crazily deadpans, “It’s like
calling a restaurant Hepatitus!” Nathan
admonishes his boss for what he thinks will be the biggest advertising
misfire in automotive history, and promptly resigns from the
company…taking with him a small 10 per cent stake in the company and not a
being an intellectual narcissist, thinks that he made just the right
move…that is until the Howard launches and becomes an overnight
sensation. The little
eco-friendly car emerges as an omnipresent entity on the roads and highways of
America. Not only
that, but Will’s car seems to have solved the nation’s energy woes as
well. Perhaps the biggest
kick to the groin – and to his ego – is that the limitless financial
success of the Howard essentially costs poor ol’ Nathan billions of
dollars, seeing as he left his former employer for a measly stake in the
company. Utterly embarrassed,
crestfallen, and humiliated (he now has become a worldwide laughing
stock), Nathan decides to relocate to Martha’s Vineyard, lop off all of
his hair and shave off his Zeus-like beard, and lay low as his new alter
ego, Rolly DaVore.
years pass and Nathan…whoops, I mean Rolly…does manage to live a life
of relative seclusion away from the media.
Then the you-know-what really, really hits the fan when – gosh darn
it! – his old boss in Will comes to the Vineyard (now one of the richest
men in the world) to a massive new mansion that overlooks the harbor.
Beyond the cleanliness of a local diner’s eating utensils,
Will’s coming back into Rolly’s life is the straw that broke the
camel’s back for him. Perhaps
even more potentially devastating for him is that Will’s return possibly
could out Rolly as Nathan to his new buddies and community.
Rolly then decides to launch an elaborate revenge plot against his
ex-boss, which jumps back and forth between stealing his trophy wife (Kate
Hudson) and…uh…blowing up Will’s mansion.
reliably steady hand of Greg Mottola - who previously made the very funny SUPERBAD
and the funny and touching ADVENTURELAND
directed CLEAR HISTORY, even though this is really David’s show to shine
in through and through. If there
were to be a criticism levied against the film then it would be
that, yes, David is just regurgitating his schtick that he’s done
countless times before on his TV show. Yet,
it’s such a sublime pleasure to witness the comedian unleash his
trademark abrasiveness and downright inconsiderateness throughout the film
that you nonetheless still kind of marvel at it.
Some of the film’s best gags are at Nathan's ridiculously
self-serving musings about seemingly inconsequential daily things, like,
for example, how electrical outlets should be at eye level and not below the
waist (“Are outlets like genitals? Do we have to hide them!?”).
Then there’s his obsession with how a local eatery maintains
standards of cutlery placement on their tables, or – my personal favorite
– his unendingly stubborn stance on why he should not have to
back up when facing another car coming in the opposite direction while on
a narrow road. Oh, did I also
mention that he argues in favor of “pee-flaps” in cars so no one ever
has to pull over again to relieve themselves again?
of this is great, because the prime hilarious real estate material of
CLEAR HISTORY is every scene that David occupies.
There are, however, some lively supporting performances by the
rather large ensemble cast, like John Hamm, who’s a slyer comedic actor than
most give him credit for. Eve
Mendes has a funny role in the film as a local girl – and former flame
of Nathan’s - that yoyos between being obese and skinny and occupies one
of the film’s great recurring jokes as to whether or not she performed
felatio on all of the members of a famous rock group (Nathan once relays
to his buddy, “She blew Chicago,” to which he replies, “The
City?”). Michael Keaton
even shows up to play a deranged explosives expert that should not in any
way shape or form be near explosives.
CLEAR HISTORY might have too many stars vying for attention too
much of the time, but seeing many of them score many hearty laughs is not
altogether a bad thing.
CLEAR HISTORY might also be a bit too long to sustain this material, not to mention that the script – or lack there of – goes through too many head scratching detours and silly twists that detracts from the whole. Yet, it's kind of refreshing to see HBO Films embrace a loony comedy like this, especially when they have churned out so many countless dramas (albeit, some magnificent ones) over the last several years. Plus, the tale of Nathan is both side-splittingly hilarious and sad at the same time, seeing him squander his life’s fortunes away over something as miniscule as a name (granted, it’s a really dumb name for a car) and then trying to live it over…only then to make even more categorically wrongheaded mistakes along the way. Still, it’s deeply entertaining to experience David’s Nathan experience crushing failure. Not succeeding in life has rarely been as amusing as it’s presented here.
TAKING CHANCE (2009) 1/2
TEMPLE GRANDIN (2010)
THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP (2010) 1/2
YOU DON'T KNOW JACK (2010)
THE SUNSET LIMITED (2011)
CINEMA VERITE (2011) 1/2
GAME CHANGE (2012)
HEMINGWAY AND GELLHORN (2012) 1/2
THE GIRL (2012)
PHIL SPECTOR (2013)
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA (2013)