Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Ridley Scott Says 'Exodus' Would Never Get Financed Starring "Mohammad So-and-So From Such-And-Such” Ridley Scott Says 'Exodus' Would Never Get Financed Starring "Mohammad So-and-So From Such-And-Such” James Cameron Says 'Avatar' Sequels Will Make You "Sh*t Yourself With Your Mouth Wide Open” James Cameron Says 'Avatar' Sequels Will Make You "Sh*t Yourself With Your Mouth Wide Open” Welcome Back To The Park: The First Trailer For 'Jurassic World' Is Here Welcome Back To The Park: The First Trailer For 'Jurassic World' Is Here Watch: 2-Hour 'Deleted Magic' Explores Deleted Scenes & Alternate Footage From The Original 'Star Wars' Trilogy Watch: 2-Hour 'Deleted Magic' Explores Deleted Scenes & Alternate Footage From The Original 'Star Wars' Trilogy New Character And Plot Details Emerge For 'True Detective' Season 2 As More Cast Members Confirmed New Character And Plot Details Emerge For 'True Detective' Season 2 As More Cast Members Confirmed James Gunn Says Shared Universe Model Is "Flawed," Plus Listen To "Awesome Mixtape Volume Zero" For 'Guardians' James Gunn Says Shared Universe Model Is "Flawed," Plus Listen To "Awesome Mixtape Volume Zero" For 'Guardians' 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination'  Starring Ethan Hawke SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination' Starring Ethan Hawke From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: 'Hard Times: Lost On Long Island' A Narrow, Insubstantial Look At Unemployment

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist July 9, 2012 at 10:02AM

The latest employment numbers in the United States came out on Friday, and they weren't great. In the month of June, a paltry 80,000 new jobs were created, with the national unemployment figure standing at 8.2%, more or less highlighting an economy that has made uncertainty the only thing you can reliably count on. There is a lot to talk about when it comes to those who are struggling to find work in the current landscape, but as you might tell by the title of Cannes- and Emmy-winning director Marc Levin's "Hard Times: Long On Long Island," his focus is on a very narrow and select group of people looking for work. And while the decision to try and sharpen the narrative makes sense from the perspective of wrangling such a wide-reaching subject, in execution, the documentary winds up touching on a number of relevant issues, but develops very few of them.
11
Hard Times

The latest employment numbers in the United States came out on Friday, and they weren't great. In the month of June, a paltry 80,000 new jobs were created, with the national unemployment figure standing at 8.2%, more or less highlighting an economy that has made uncertainty the only thing you can reliably count on. There is a lot to talk about when it comes to those who are struggling to find work in the current landscape, but as you might tell by the title of Cannes- and Emmy-winning director Marc Levin's "Hard Times: Long On Long Island," his focus is on a very narrow and select group of people looking for work. And while the decision to try and sharpen the narrative makes sense from the perspective of wrangling such a wide-reaching subject, in execution, the documentary winds up touching on a number of relevant issues, but develops very few of them.

'Hard Times' begins on a note of despair and then lets it continually ring out in a mostly unwavering tone, for much of the all-too-brief, less than one-hour running time. The film centers on a handful of people from the (upper) middle class city of Levittown, New York, most of whom are in their middle age or older, all struggling to find work. Among them is the almost comically unlucky Alan Fromm who was at the World Trade Center when it was first bombed and during 9/11, was struck by lightning and was on the LIRR when Colin Ferguson murdered six people. There's Nick Puccio who was laid off by an asset management firm owned by Lehman Brothers in the wake of their collapse a few years back. There's husband and wife Anne and Mel Strauss who have lost their public relations and finance jobs respectively and a finally, there's young, attractive, married couple Heather and David Hartstein who have fallen on hard times after she lost her teaching position, and he saw a substantial decrease in patients at his chiropratic practice.

Hard Times

Levin uses the microcosm of these people and their difficulties to weave an already familiar elegy, one that has been used time and again over the past four or five years, to talk about the decline of the American dream, and how the rose-tinted post-war era of the '50s eroded into an era of bankruptcy, foreclosure and eviction. Using a rather lazy structuring device that weaves together interviews and intercuts them with a battery of increasingly depressing statistics, Levin makes it abundantly clear that There Is A Problem. But we knew this going in already, so what else is there?

Well, there are the stories of these individuals themselves, who bravely open their personal pain to the camera, but with all due sensitivity, their stories are not that unique. This writer has seen more than one friend go through phases of unemployment lasting as long as the folks here, and while that recognition of the problem allows the viewer to immediately connect to the plight of the subjects in the movie, 'Hard Times' doesn't go far enough. One of the issues floated (and again, one of many that is raised, and then disappears) is that of age discrimination; of older potential workers not being fairly considered for jobs. It's an interesting point, and certainly one worthy of at least talking about a bit further, but Levin lets the accusation slide (though this may be perhaps due to the fact that the unemployment rate among youth generally tends to skew much higher than the national average). Levin also peppers his film with rhetoric from both the right and left wing via news clips -- usually polarized between "the unemployed are lazy" or "the government isn't doing enough" -- as some attempt to frame the movie under a national context, but it's half-baked at best. With no interviews with politicians, employers, bankers, financial people or even members of his subjects' extended families or friends who are seeing them live through this experience, Levin's film is so specifically confined, that it becomes blind to its own deficiencies.

Hard Times

'Hard Times' is, at best, an anecdotal look at unemployment, and we suppose a bit of a pity party for anyone going through a similiar situation at the moment. And that's not to diminish the very real issues Alan, Nick, Anne, Mel, Heather and David face in the movie -- with stress, dyfunction, depression all hitting them in various ways -- but as material for a film, even one that clocks in at a short fifty-three minutes, it's a bit thin. One wonders why Levin didn't invest more effort in creating a more layered exploration of employment, while still keeping the personal focus. The film feels like it ran out of money or Levin ran out of interest halfway through -- or simply didn't get enough footage and ran up against a deadline. Either way, 'Hard Times' tackles a serious subject, and one that will be a key factor in this year's elections (with four more employment reports coming, including one four days before the election -- marking the first time a president faces the prospect of re-election with the unemployment rate over 8%), without the depth it deserves. [C]

"Hard Times: Lost On Long Island" airs tonight on HBO at 9 PM.

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, HBO


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates