Published on September 12th, 2013 | by Mike Conlon
In Clear History, Larry David more or less plays his character from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Larry David could never play anyone except Larry David. And strong performances from David and the rest of the cast make Clear History worth the watch. By the end, however, you might wonder, like me, why David didn’t forgo this foray into film and instead make another season his popular HBO show.
Clear History opens in the year 2003. David plays Nathan Flomm, a long-haired marketing expert who quits his job because he despises the name of his company’s new electric car, The Howard. Nathan consequently misses out on a fortune when the car is successful beyond anyone’s expectations. Cut to the present, and Nathan (now totally bald) is living under the assumed name Rolly DaVore on Martha’s Vineyard. Everything is fine until Nathan’s former boss, Will (John Hamm) decides to build a home on the Vineyard to Nathan’s great ire.
Larry David famously spearheaded Seinfeld’s ‘no hugging, no learning’ philosophy, and later brought this approach to Curb. While this formula has been the backbone of two tremendously entertaining TV shows it doesn’t play as well in the movie format, which generally demands some kind of character evolution. David’s previous film, the emotionally monochromatic Sour Grapes, was an unmitigated disaster. Clear History features more dimensional characters and is significantly more entertaining than Sour Grapes, but nonetheless pales in comparison to David’s TV work. David’s style of comedy is geared towards shorter installments, anything beyond an hour, and it can get grating.
In Clear History, David, as Nathan, criticizes everything from electrical outlet placement (“Why do they have to be hidden away? Are they like genitals”) to the lack of pee-flaps in cars. This kind of musing is standard Curb fare, and plays remarkably well in the show. In Clear History, however, David’s scatological reflections are distracting asides set atop a not always engaging plot.
David pads his short-on-plot film with an incredibly talented cast; unfortunately though, the sum is not equal to its parts. Nowhere else is it more evident that David is attempting to piggyback on the success of his HBO show. Not only does David play the same character he does in Curb, he brings in JB Smoove, who also revives his Curb role. It’s one thing for David to play his HBO character, that’s his schtick — who else would he play? But when JB Smoove appeared on screen, I couldn’t help but ask, ‘Larry, man, why not just do Curb?’
If Spider-man taught us anything it’s that with great power, comes great responsibility. So too, with great talent, comes great responsibility. David has previously managed to shed the shackles of past success and reinvent himself. While Curb hasn’t achieved the same comedic heights or cultural import as Seinfeld, David has at least managed to create a show that stands on its own two legs. Clear History, for as competent and well executed as it is, cannot escape the shadow of Curb. But hey, it’s funny. Kind of. So watch it. And try not torture yourself asking why David didn’t just bring us more Curb.