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

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

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.

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’ 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.

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Scott Briggs

I haven't seen the film yet, but I plan to after reading this
review: I grew up in Levittown myself, from 1973-1987 or so,
and, I've been through the place again several times for various
reasons the past seven years or so, and I can tell you that it has been
through some TRULY hard times. Also, Levittown was never upper middle
class, or maybe through the 1960s it might in some cases have been CLOSE,
but Levittown was never exactly Sands Point or anything remotely near it.
It was/is a conformist, post-war model suburban bedroom community,
as it was planned to be, but man the past 20 years or under have NOT been
too kind to it. I recently took a spin to what replaced the Nassau Mall there,
it's a basic strip mall now with a Best Buy and BJs, ok, no problem, movie
theater, still there, but not as nice as it once was to put it mildly, and the worst
horror is driving to the old Center Lane Village Green shopping center
and seeing that recently, the pizza place there closed (though relocating),
covered in nasty graffiti, and the Youth Center there closed many years ago already,
now a Senior Center of some kind, if it lasts, and the rest the shops are closed down
or about to close. So, you can talk about 2009 all you like, but things are NOT
getting any better in Levittown, really, from what I can see. And, for nearly 20 years
now, (20 years!) or close, the old TSS shops that was later a Caldors or whatever it was,
IS STILL DERELICT. That alone should tell us the kind of post-80s ordeal that
this once-thriving community has been through.

Mainly it looks the same, from the outside, but that alone is an ever-present symbol of the better times this place once
enjoyed/exemplified. I hate to say it, but it's mainly turned pretty "ghetto," but on
the other hand, it's not the worst ever seen. Levittown, despite my and my old friends
love/hate relationship with the place (mainly bordering on hate as far as culture or
anything interesting was concerned–although even through the late 80s we had record shops,
game rooms, cooler malls, better movie theaters, hobby shops, and other things
that made life somewhat bearable, even a few bookstores), never depressed me like it does these days. The nightlife on L.I. even in the mid 1990s, was actually pretty cool, for goodness'
sake….now forget it. Take a club like Paris NY in Huntington….could match the best of
NYC almost in terms of alternative chic in those days…..then it ALLL died. Even The Malibu
in Lido Beach was something cool….now, nothing. Just nothing.

Then again, that's just my visiting impressions…I don't live there any longer. But
all of L.I. has taken a beating and that's the truth of it. And I as in Manhattan working
in midtown on 9/11, so I know all about THAT as well.


The lack of empathy in this comments section is astounding.


Previous comment was computer error.


I could be wrong but you seem like a snob. You come across as a person belonging to the "pull up your boot straps" school of thought. Until your have been in the situation of a that can't find a job, no contacts, no extended family to l end a hand. Until you have beenin the deep hole


The reality is many of us don't live in upper middle class neighborhoods such as those featured in the documentary. Unfortunately, many people suffer from wanting the big house, the very expensive car, etc….I know many people in our small SW Florida town who have had to have foreclosed on their home and literally downsized to much, much smaller living space. Unfortunately, all I got from the movie was that they wanted to continue having the "American Dream" and wanting to continue living in their upper middle class neighborhood but never got anything that said, "Maybe I am living beyond my means and need to move." People in our society want to have the "American Dream" and yet someone hasn't told them that they maybe simply cannot afford it. What about storing up money when things like losing your job come up……..maybe they used that up all ready but frankly I admire those people that I know whom are willing to take just about anything now in order to put food on their table and living life with contentment even if it means not living in a big fancy house or having a very expensive car.


The writer and Annie here have a serious mean streak, and probably don't know it. Pity Party, my butt. Concentrate instead on younger people? There's that age discrimination again. I'm one of those who is highly trained and unemployed for three years. Judging by hiring preferences now I may never be employed again, very much like millions of others like me over 50. And Annie, if you're in your 20's, you've got 40 years left to get things right. I'm 57, about to lose my home, and I have a student loan too, from that Master's degree that was supposed to make me more valuable to employers. And if you're 57, you don't have 40 years left to save yourself. Or your wife. And anything you tried to build for her over the years. I didn't get married to put her in a poor house. Young people should know that everything changes over time. They have substantial reason to hope. But if you don't have time, then you're where we are. And that deserves respect.


I wish Levin would have concentrated on the thousands of younger generations who will probably NEVER buy a house, who start their young adult life in debt due to student loans. We and others younger than me will never get a taste of the American dream as we know it. I was very disappointed that he didn't even touch on those subjects. But that's pretty typical coming from a greedy, self-centered baby boomer.

Why should I feel sympathy for a bunch of greedy baby boomers that used to work in the financial sector? Get a real job! How about interviewing teachers, policemen, nurses, doctors…people that do real work helping other people. I'm pretty certain that Levin could have found some of those people to interview. I could care less that some mortgage banker on Wall St. lost his job and his house. Those people and who they represent are to blame for this mess we're in now and I'm almost willing to bet, that probably half or more of those people in the film voted Republican. Once again baby boomers putting their self interest above everything else.

It's interesting that the silent generation implemented public policies to help their children move into the middle class and yet when the reigns were handed over to the baby boomers, they were more concerned with lining their own pockets than with helping future generations. This movie is a typical self-centered view for baby boomers by a baby boomer. Once again, the generations who have been cheated out of their stab at the American Dream aren't even taken into consideration. As if our story doesn't matter.

My hope is that my generation and those after me take a more community approach in implementing public policy. Eventually, the baby boomers will die off and we'll be rid of this greedy, self-serving attitude that sadly rules our political system today.


Levittown, upper middle class? That's a bit of a stretch. It is nice enough, but pretty modest by most standards. Unless you're from Calcutta.

Rich registered representative

Why don't these idiot morons have non-qualified accounts setup that invest in municipal bond funds? That would be something that could be used for an emergency fund to help the through hardship. A job is horse crap anyway. Why be on a w-2 instead of being on a 1099? You write off more and you'll have e chance to be a part of the 1%. Wake up morons!

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