From the endlessly funny Larry David comes "Clear History," a quirky, delightful HBO comedy that depicts one man's attempt to rid the world of a shameful event in his past by changing his name and moving to a place far away where he's eventually forced to confront everything he's spent ten years running from. The event in question takes place in 2003, when Nathan Flomm, a renowned marketing executive, is floored by the name of a new eco-friendly car he has to promote. Flomm is so offended that he wants nothing to do with the car, foolishly quitting his job which would have earned him a billion dollars.
"You're making it impossible for me to market this car," he tells his boss, Will Haney, moments before resigning and forever tarnishing his once-respectable name. "I can't do it. Nobody's going to buy a car named Howard. It's like naming a restaurant Hepatitis," he concludes in a punchline that is uncharacteristic of a movie more concerned with running jokes than random laughs.
In "Clear History," no joke is wasted. Each one comes full circle in a story about karma that touches on the morality play.
Larry David, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” is seen in a scene from “Clear History,” a new HBO comedy film that also features Bill Hader and Jon Hamm.
Flomm, an imprudent, filterless neurotic, played by David, sets the tone early with an overly long jab about the hair of the nanny who raises Haney's son.
The scene reflects how every joke is mined for laughs until the movie's plot can no longer sustain it, each joke told once, then repeated, gutted, stitched back together, and reformed into something fresh, but recognizable by the time the credits roll.
Even Flomm's unkempt facial hair becomes a running gag, which renders Mr. David almost unrecognizable, eliciting Gandalf references from a character played by the reliably comical Danny McBride, who is but one member of the strong supporting cast that includes Jon Hamm, Eva Mendes, Bill Hader, Michael Keaton, and Kate Hudson.
But it's David who always shines, his long, drab face ceaselessly contorting into bafflement, resignation, relief, and especially shock, which he is so adept at expressing that he could easily feign a heart attack.
Director Greg Mottola knows this, focusing in on David's face as much as he can with whimsical camera zooms and playful angles that capture the bumbling monstrosity that is Nathan Flomm, a man defined by a self-imposed humiliation.
Flomm can never let anything go. He constantly critiques insincere social conventions and once he gets an idea in his mind, it's there forever.
Early in the movie, Flomm complains that electrical outlets should be placed at eye level so as to avoid awkward interference with furniture. When the movie jumps ahead ten years and into Flomm's home, the eye-level outlet makes a hilarious appearance.
The motif also serves as a harbinger of things to come, an idea from the past that has made its way to the present, a sign that Flomm's idyllic respite on Martha's Vineyard can't last forever, which is bad for him, but great for us, because "Clear History" is at its best when Flomm is at his worst.
3 stars out of 4.