Clear History feels like a super-sized episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, right down to the whimsical classical music cues by Ludovic Bource. As a fan of Curb, this is not a bad thing. In additional to his late-season sidekick J.B. Smoove, we also get some big names playing against David. The good: Jon Hamm, Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Liev Schrieber. The meh: Amy Ryan, Bill Hader, Paul Scheer, Philip Baker Hall. Not that they were bad, just that the script, by Larry David & Alec Berg & David Mandel & Jeff Schaffer didn’t give them much to do.
In true Larry David style, there are some good callback jokes: a painting of a shopping cart, Ayn Rand references, who should back up first on narrow country roads. The one callback that the film relies upon, unfortunately, involves oral sex and the band Chicago, and is depressingly retrograde in its view of female sexuality. The editing, by Curb‘s Steven Rasch, does a good job of shaping the improvisatory scenes for comedy. The one odd decision, which may not have been Rasch’s, but David’s or director Greg Mottola’s, was to have a scene about Jon Hamm’s character talking about cancer intercut with a scene of Larry David’s character. The transitions made the scene feel like it was a fantasy of David’s character, but we later learn it wasn’t. The cinematography, by Jim Denault, is undistinguished and occasionally blown out in the highlights, making me think the film was shot fast and cheap. Production designer Sarah Knowles deserves kudos for the funny “Howard” cars which become ubiquitous in the story.
Overall, Clear History is not worth subscribing to HBO for specifically, but an entertaining way to pass the time between seasons of Curb. Another pass or two on the script and shot with more artistry, perhaps also not casting David, this would have made a good theatrical film. I would love to see more of Larry David’s writing applied to a long-form template like this.