Clear History: A Flickcharter’s Movie Review
In a year full of mediocre comedies and only one standout (This is the End), it’s a miracle to have a film like Clear History be as funny as it is. Larry David‘s new work is one to either be celebrated or taken apart, and this is one that is worth watching, even if you find the final result to be something less than you were expecting.
Clear History opens in 2003, where David is Nathan Flomm, a long-haired marketing exec working for the start-up company Electron Motors. They have just developed a new electric car, and Nathan gets into a dispute with its creator Will Haney (Jon Hamm) over the name. The name Howard doesn’t suit him well (“It’s like naming a restaurant hepatitis,” he observes). He immediately sells back his shares in the company, but the next day changes his mind and Will finds his apology insincere, effectively letting him go, cheating him out of a billion dollars, and becoming the laughingstock of the nation.
Flash forward ten years later, and Nathan has reinvented himself on Martha’s Vineyard as Rolly DaVore, being the caretaker of a wealthy older woman but loving his simple life. That is until Will, with his new wife Rhonda (Kate Hudson), purchases the biggest property on the island and invades his territory without even realizing it. Vowing to take his revenge after seeing The Fountainhead, he enlists the help of some crazy locals (Bill Hader and Michael Keaton) to blow up the property, while managing to upset the locals over other things, including Jasper (J.B. Smoove) by telling his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) to see other men. No matter what Rolly does, he manages to make everything worse.
With Clear History, David has managed to assemble an all-star cast, who are more than game for the story that is being told, and the result is that there is not a bad performance in the bunch. David is as funny as usual, but everyone else, from Jon Hamm to Kate Hudson to even Liev Schreiber (in an uncredited bit) are all equal to standing up to David in each of their scenes, in some respects even coming close to upstaging him. In that regard, it is both J.B. Smoove and Danny McBride who succeed the most in delivering the funniest moments against David himself. McBride is especially noteworthy, giving one of the most understated performances of his career.
As with any comedy filled with improvisation, Clear History has a series of good running gags, ranging from the physical to the verbal. The best of these gags involves David building a swing set, which is laugh-out-loud just because of how unexpected it is. The weakest of these gags is a joke about Rolly’s ex-girlfriend Wendy (Amy Ryan) and the band Chicago, which starts out strong, but gradually runs out of steam, especially during the last scene, where it feels out of place and ends the movie on a false note.
On that note, it must be said that Clear History is not perfect despite how funny it is. The opening gag is one that is thrown out and never seen again, making the audience wonder what the point of it was, and the ending in general feels like a scene is missing. Still, the majority of the film is so much fun that the criticisms of it are minor at best, as director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Paul) manages to help his cast deliver way more hits than misses.
In the end, Clear History will be a hilarious as long as you leave your Curb Your Enthusiasm baggage at the door. At times, it plays like an extended episode of the show, but at the same time, its improvisational approach to this material results in an absolute good time. It’s astounding to see HBO make a comedy that can stand tall with its best dramas. They should make more of them in the future.
How does Clear History compare to other films from HBO?
A hilarious comedy up against the dramatization of Sarah Palin. Sadly, even though I found Game Change to be a good film, the biggest issue I had with it was that it was missing the rewatchability of Recount, which was created by the same team. It also didn’t help matters that it started to run out of steam just a little too soon. Clear History held its own to be a much stronger film with not only plenty of comedy, but also being able to actually come up with a dramatic arc by the end. Although both films are terrific, Clear History earns the easy victory here. It’s just the better film.
Behind the Candelabra was and still is a fine film, but Clear History is a tad better. Controversial, yes, but Behind the Candelabra, despite the great performances and excellent drama, seems to not have as much staying power as one initially thinks. Clear History is just fun, and sometimes that makes for the better film. Clear History takes it, but for a lot of others, it will probably be the other way around.
Of all of the films HBO has made, Recount is the best. The story of the 2000 Presidential Election and the aftermath that came with it made for supreme entertainment, and even five years after its premiere, it still holds up quite well as their finest work. It’s a challenge that Clear History simply can’t overcome. As fun as this film is, it just doesn’t hold a candle to Recount, and that is because the film is more concerned with making you laugh that being something more. Once again, sometimes that is enough. It’s a tough battle, but Recount wins it in the end.
So where does Clear History rank on my Flickchart?
Clear History currently ranks #290 out of 3,847 movies on my Flickchart. Having now seen it three times since Saturday night, not only is this the funniest film of the year, but it’s also one of the best!
Clear History is now playing on HBO On Demand and HBO GO, and will be playing on the HBO channels throughout August and September. Go to HBO.com for other scheduled times.