Clear History (2013) ***1/2
Dir. Greg Mottola
Starring: Larry David, Jon Hamm, Bill Hader, Philip Baker Hall, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Amy Ryan
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I think some context might be necessary before I begin with my thoughts on the movie at hand. In 2009 I saw Woody Allen's Whatever Works - a picture I loved thoroughly, even though it was probably a script he'd piled up in a desk drawer with a whole mess of others he'd never managed to get around to shooting. It featured Boris Yelnikoff, a typically misanthropic Allen character I'd come to know, love and trust over the decades - mostly because it made me feel less alone knowing that other people felt as bemusedly disdainful of their own species as I usually did.
Aside from looking into a mirror, it was fun seeing a by-now almost de rigueur stand-in for Allen in the form of another actor. In this case, it was Larry David. What hit me like a ton of bricks was just how much I loved this hilariously rancourous dude who, ensconced somewhere in the half century point of his life was clearly an enormous talent who'd only now been discovered by the inimitable Woody Allen. I thought, how could someone as brilliant as this Larry David guy fallen below the world's radar? How could I have never remembered him from any of the 30,000+ feature films I'd seen over the course of my life? Ah well, I doffed my proverbial cap in Allen's direction for sniffing out and showcasing him to the world.
When I did an internet search later that evening, I was agog - simply agog! Larry David, was already a star. As someone who pretty much stopped watching television in 1982, why would I know this unless the guy had appeared in a substantial role in a real movie? This was, after all, only 2009 and though I should have remembered his cameos in Allen's Radio Days and the "Oedipus Wrecks" segment of New York Stories, I did not. At that point, we were still three years away from the Farrelly Brothers monumental work of art, The Three Stooges, wherein Mr. David appeared as the beleaguered Sister Mary Mengele - a phenomenal gender-bending performance that made utter mincemeat out of Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire and Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee (and pretty much every other movie Thompson appeared in).
I discovered Mr. David was the creator and chief writer of the TV series Seinfeld, but as I had only seen one episode of that show (in a hotel room during a channel hopping spree) and had never even heard of Curb Your Enthusiasm until that fateful internet search, all I knew was that Woody Allen discovered Larry David and cast him in the lead role of the laugh-out-loud non-stop knee-slap-fest called Whatever Works.
So, let us now fast forward to 2013. I was very much interested in seeing Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra with Michael Douglas as Liberace. Alas, I was not free to see it on a big screen during the Inside Out GLBT Film Festival and was forced to watch it - egads! - on a screener on television. I reviewed it (HERE) and loved it and even lamented that it was not being released theatrically as it was a real movie - something TV stopped doing well in the 1970s (Spielberg's Duel, et al).
Perhaps I was being too harsh. In spite of endless recommendations from friends and colleagues that there were things on contemporary TV I would like, if not love, I kept experiencing one disappointment after another like The Sopranos (bargain basement Scorsese), Deadwood (bargain basement Peckinpah), Mad Men (a bargain basement amalgam of Sirk, Tashlin and Sweet Smell of Success), Dexter (a false, foul and unfunny black comedy for people who only pretend to like black comedy) and last, but not least, Mildred Pierce (the most dull, uninteresting work from the great director Todd Haynes that I'd ever seen in my life).
Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch! The mind is a terrible thing to waste. I decided my mind required some spring cleaning. With the very kind assistance of a publicist from Canada's The Movie Network, Ellery Ulster (who also bears one of the greatest names in the western world - I mean, really - Ellery Ulster!!??!! I'd kill to have a monicker like that!!! Second only to J.J. Hunsecker and/or Sidney Falco, mais non?) I was generously barraged this summer with a bevy of made for TV delights.
Among them, the first episodes of the final season of Dexter did not sway me to think positively about it, The Newsroom does little for me (though I suppose it could, yet) and whilst the first four episodes of Ray Donovan feature astonishing performances from the great Liev Schreiber as a sleaze ball Hollywood celebrity "fixer" and especially Stephen Bauer as a Russian-Jewish thug who does most of the title character's real dirty work, the jury is still out on that show for me since Jon Voight is absolutely godawful as Schreiber's Dad and I'm not really fond of the serial elements of the show's structure.
(For a more in-depth explanation of why I prefer "Golden Age" TV, feel free to read my insanely exhaustive piece at Electric Sheep HERE.)
Amidst immersing myself in the most contemporary HBO-Showtime-styled television, a lone figure appeared on the vast-prairies-that-are-my-flat-screen-HD-monitor. No, it wasn't The Lone Ranger, but someone so equally unrecognizable that I was compelled to yelp out, "Who IS that masked man?" For at least the first third of Clear History, the "masked man" is none other than LARRY DAVID.
Clear History is, without a doubt, one of the funniest feature length comedies I've seen in quite some time. Directed by the Über-talented Greg (Superbad, The Daytrippers, Paul) Mottola, co-written by David and featuring a sensational all-star cast, it feels like a genuinely indie-spirited feature film (sans the usual holier-than-thou trappings that make films like The Way, Way Back so utterly sickening to me).
This is a MOVIE! And damn, just like Soderbergh's great Liberace-o-rama, I'm still scratching my head as to why Clear History did not first grace big screens in real movie theatres. No matter. It's a terrific picture and worth seeing any way you can.
David plays Nathan Flomm, a whining, opinionated, long-haired old-hippy Marketing Guru who owns a ground floor 10% of a brand new eco-minded car manufacturing corporation where he serves, (partially) in his own mind, but (more likely) in reality, as the real vision behind this revolutionary smart-car-like mode of transport. The company's head honcho is his old friend Will Haney (Jon Hamm), a slick, handsome and amiable Steve Jobs type who clearly loves and respects his pal, but also has his own ideas about how best to represent the company's products to the world.
All goes to seed when Will reveals to the team his "visionary" plans to roll out their product to the world. The car has been christened with the name, "Howard".
Howard? Who in their right mind would call a car "Howard"?
Will, that's who.
Nathan is open-mouthed with shock and disdainfully barb-tongued in front of the entire boardroom full of hip, youthful and typically insufferable "team players". Though Will has named the car after his own son, a deeply personal legacy-building move based upon love and family, Nathan could care less and spews globs of venom upon the idea. In anger, Nathan demands he get an immediate buyout of his 10% and quits.
This is an unbelievably stupid move. The Howard is a hit and Nathan becomes the media's whipping boy as the nutcase who gave up a multi-million-dollar stake. Not only does he lose his fame-and-fortune-driven wife, but it takes no time at all for him to lose what little money and property he really has.
Abandoning his unkempt hippie look, he moves to Martha's Vineyard with a new identity and lives out his life in obscurity and poverty. That said, he's found peace and contentment, until his happily insular world is shattered with the arrival of his nemesis - the wildly rich and successful Howard Car magnate. Will buys an opulently distasteful mansion that he's made even MORE distasteful and he loves his wife to death.
Nathan's hatred and jealousy boil over to absurd proportions.
Will, on the other hand has no idea that Nathan is Nathan. This is good. For Nathan, that is. Revenge, you see, is just around the corner. And Nathan aims for it to be sweet.
This is the stuff of great comedy and under Mottola's assured direction, the movie is a corker. It's adult, sophisticated and hugely entertaining. The picture clips along with an alternately breezy and introspective pace and the cast is to die for. Larry David and Jon Hamm are never less than engaging, Bridget Fonda is sexy and funny as Will's wife and both Michael Keaton and David Hader will have you on the floor (they almost steal the show) as crazed small town redneck survivalist-anarchist types who devise an evil plan with Nathan to take everything from Will that's sacred to him.
The postscript to all of this is that I'll never watch more than the one episode I've seen of Seinfeld, but I'm now, FINALLY, halfway through Season One of Curb Your Enthusiasm. It's a great show and all I want now is to get my clutches on the remaining seasons.
In the meantime, Clear History rocks. I've watched it three times now. And counting.
"Clear History" can be seen on HBO Canada, a multiplex channel of Bell Media’s The Movie Network (Eastern Canada) and Corus Entertainment’s Movie Central (Western Canada). The movie will be available in High Definition and on TMN GO, HBO Canada OnDemand and HBO Canada OnLine.