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