When we first meet Nathan Flomm, he is sailing down a California highway in a luxury convertible, blasting Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4". Singing along, he bobs his head-- seemingly content with his life. Little does he know, he is mere hours away from ruining that very life. Not unlike George Costanza from Seinfeld or Larry David's alter ego on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nathan Flomm is his own worst enemy, which proves a wonderful recipe for comedy.
Nathan is played by David, who also "wrote" the film with the brilliant team of Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer and David Mandel (the underrated Eurotrip, the under-seen Clerks: The Animated Series and more). Nathan is a co-investor in a hot new start-up company with Will Haney (Mad Men's Jon Hamm). The product? An electric car called The Howard, named for the infamous Ayn Rand character Howard Roark from The Fountainhead.
But Flomm despises the name and pulls his money out of the company, a decision that will cost him more than a billion dollars after The Howard becomes an Apple-esque overnight success. Even Haney turns his back on his former friend. Flomm is suddenly a reluctant celebrity, mocked in the streets for this one simple mistake.
The Howard ruins his life.
Cut to Martha's Vineyard, 10 years later. Nathan has changed his name to Rolly DaVore. Once again, our hero seems to be content, now living a lazy, small town life. Everybody knows everybody in this tiny hamlet, and Rolly has happily become just another 'Everybody'. But when the construction of a new eyesore McMansion begins on the island, Rolly learns that the owner of the house is Will Haney, his former partner, who arrives toting a young trophy wife (Kate Hudson) and a Zuckerberg-like fortune.
Rolly finds himself at a crossroads: Will he allow his life to once again be destroyed by Haney and The Howard or will he get himself some (perhaps not so deserved) revenge?
If you guessed revenge, treat yourself to a pat on the back.
I'll end the description there, as the plot kicks into high-gear, involving everything from formerly-fat girls to shoulder-level electric sockets. Director Greg Motolla wisely keeps flashy camerawork to a minimum, allowing the performances of his actors to take center stage. But despite it's HBO release, Clear History looks, feels and sounds like a real theatrical movie, an admittedly odd compliment.
The cast is stellar, not a single weak link in the chain. Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber in particular steal their scenes, almost disappearing into their roles. It took me a few minutes to even realize that was Michael Keaton under that feral mountain-man beard. Amy Ryan, JB Smoove, Danny McBride, Bill Hader and Philip Baker Hall also stand out from the pack. In fact, Baker Hall might be Larry David's ideal comedic foil, effortlessly portraying a normal guy who is totally disgusted by Rolly and his amusingly free-wheelin' behavior.
What sets Clear History apart from so many comedies is that you actually care about the story, the characters. When that pesky 3rd act rolls around, you are still avidly interested in finding out what happens to this poor dummy. A late reveal concerning Jon Hamm's character is another ingenious twist, a move that would never have been tonally possible in any of David's previous TV work.
People who claim that the movie is just a 90 minute episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm could not be further off-base. That would be like saying that every Woody Allen movie is exactly the same. (BTW- A classic red flag that you're talking to a cinematic moron.) The thread that runs through David's work that may give this mistaken impression, is his trademark comedic voice. Since Seinfeld, Larry David has had the ability to take something ordinary and mundane and, make it hysterically funny.
And he has done it yet again.
Watching this film, I eventually had to momentarily pause it, just to quietly marvel at it's brilliance. Wow. Larry David is a killer and Clear History is a masterpiece of Christopher Guest proportions.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.