Curb Your Enthusiasm fans, take note: Larry David’s hysterical HBO improvised comedy is back, only — and try to follow me here — it’s got a different name, and now it’s a movie.
Clear History tells the story of Nathan Flomm (David) a hotheaded, socially maladjusted marketing guru who sells back his 10 percent stake in an electric car company just before all its investors become gazillionaires. The movie has the exact same comic sense and style as Curb. That means if you don’t care for the David brand of comedy — the cringeworthy social blunders, the obnoxiously honest interactions with strangers and friends alike — Clear History probably isn’t for you.
But if you’ve been craving more Curb (its most recent season aired in 2011), or you’re still chuckling at nightly reruns of Seinfeld, Clear History offers a howlingly funny dose of Larry David. As the movie opens, the only thing separating Nathan from Larry is the former’s ridiculously flowing hairdo, with matching ZZ Top beard. The sight of a hirsute Larry David is a hoot, made even funnier by the fact that the comedian is clearly uncomfortable in the costume. In early scenes, the glued-on beard hinders his speech, and whether the discomfort was intentional or not, it’s pretty darn funny.
Nathan’s inventor boss Will Haney (Jon Hamm) announces that the company’s new electric car will be named the Howard, after his young son. Nathan flips out, in classic David style: “Nobody’s going to buy a car named Howard. It’s like naming a restaurant hepatitis.” He sells back his shares, a move that quickly makes him a very public cautionary tale as the Howard becomes a hit and turns everyone at his old company into millionaires. That part is based on the real-life plight of Ronald Wayne, who sold his Apple shares in the 1970s before the company took flight.
The movie then jumps ahead a decade. Nathan has shaved the beard, gone bald — he now looks exactly like Larry David — and lives under an alias on Martha’s Vineyard, taking care of an older lady. His past is behind him, until Haney buys a huge Vineyard pad and re-intrudes on his life. Haney doesn’t recognize his old colleague without the beard (that’s the level of purposeful ridiculousness at which the movie operates), so Nathan plots revenge.
That’s pretty much it. Upon that loose frame, David and director Greg Mottola (Superbad) hang a string of expertly improvised comic scenes performed by an all-star cast and leading to a deliriously absurd conclusion. In addition to Hamm, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton and Philip Baker Hall are among those joining in the fun. There are themes of reinvention, redemption and forgiveness here, but the movie barely grazes them. True to its improv style, the story meanders, but the jokes swirl and land more often than they miss. And at the center of it all is Larry, er, I mean, Nathan — fuming, frustrated and funny as ever.
Clear History airs Saturday night at 9 on HBO. Watch the trailer here.