Larry David’s Patent Comic Talents in HBO’s “Clear History”

A TV Article by Tim Riley

Larry David is a crank. You know, he’s the crusty middle-aged bald guy from HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a hit show in which his cynical character managed to turn a gloomy, disagreeable disposition into an art form.

Working best in an ensemble format, David’s unique brand of humor is based on being crabby, irritable and argumentative. Though you may not find it in his credits, he even played an ill-tempered nun in “The Three Stooges” (not the original, mind you, but a recent remake).

HBO’s feature length film “Clear History,” an odd title for the subject matter, is nevertheless clear about what Larry David brings to his role of a marketing whiz that ends up walking away from a big payoff after a petty argument.

David’s Nathan Flomm, an executive at Electron Motors, a start-up electric car company, gives up his 10% share of the company stock when he picks a fight with his boss, Will Haney (Jon Hamm, otherwise known as Don Draper in “Mad Men.”)

During a staff meeting, a trivial dispute ensues when Nathan fiercely opposes the CEO’s decision to name the newly-designed vehicle “The Howard.”

The car may be named after Howard Roark, the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” but then the boss’ young son is also named Howard, suggesting that Will Haney may have an affinity for Rand’s independent-minded architect pushing back against collectivism.

For his part, Nathan appears more interested in just being confrontational rather getting caught up in the philosophical struggle of the individual choosing integrity instead of conformity.

In any case, Nathan, unable to curb his own tongue, talks himself out of a lucrative position, losing his wife and house in the process, and then ends up moving from San Jose to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to start over.

When we first see Nathan, he’s a long-haired hippie who looks nothing like Larry David. Once relocated to the other side of the country, Nathan becomes Rolly DaVore, a guy who looks like the familiar face from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Ten years have passed, and Rolly works odd jobs, primarily as a caregiver to an elderly lady. He spends much of his time at the local diner, where he complains about the unsanitary practice of the utensils being placed on the table without a napkin.

He also once dated the diner’s waitress Wendy (Amy Ryan), who is rumored to have had intimate relations with members of the band Chicago at a concert nearly 20 years ago, and the rumor becomes a recurring joke that irritates Rolly to no end.

A lot of Rolly’s free time is spent with local characters, including his best friend Frank (Danny McBride), in late night poker games.

Rolly also manages to annoy another local, J.B. Smoove’s Jaspar, by providing an offhand suggestion to Jaspar’s girlfriend Jennifer (Eva Mendes) that she takes a bit too seriously, thereby undermining their romance.

Meanwhile, Rolly, who has been eager to avoid the public humiliation that came with being called the “idiot” who walked away from a $1 billion payday, relishes the anonymity he has acquired.

But Rolly’s peaceful existence is completely upended the day that his old boss Will Haney and his glamorous new wife Rhonda (Kate Hudson) move to the island and start building a huge waterfront mansion that doesn’t sit well with the natives.

The plot turns when Rolly conspires with local whackos, Joe Stumpo (an unrecognizable Michael Keaton) and his sidekick Rags (Bill Hader), to blow up the mammoth home and get revenge for Haney wrecking his life.

Of course, complications ensue when first Rolly runs afoul of a Chechen thug (Live Schreiber) dealing explosives and then spends a day at the local fair with Haney’s wife Rhonda, mistakenly coming to the belief that he’s made a real connection with her.

“Clear History” involves plenty of irony, not just for the fact that Nathan left a company before it took off, but also that later he’s incapable of not destroying the new life he’s created for himself.

The genesis for this film is that Larry David heard the story about a guy who owned 10% of Apple and sold his shares before the company found its great success.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” ran for eight seasons on HBO. We’re not sure if a ninth season is in the works, and thus, for the time being “Clear History” is the best fix for Larry David fans.

Unlike the networks, HBO runs “Clear History” several times throughout the month of August, including screenings at 1:00 a.m. and 4:40 a.m. for insomniacs.

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