Title: Larry Crowne
Director: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer, Bryan Cranston, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, George Takei
“Larry Crowne” is comparable to a light refreshing drink that takes the edge off on a scorching summer day. That said, it could have used an extra shot of the green fairy (look it up) to exhume life out of this cardboard script. And no, you’re not reading Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy.
Every minute of the 99 steadily improves as co-writer/director Tom Hanks maneuvers around this scantly clad product that just lets it fly. It may not always come together as well as they thought in the editing room, but the flick is essentially harmless. A little more thoroughness on the depicted subject matter would have been nice though.
Larry Crowne (an energized Tom Hanks) is a fifty-something workforce veteran. He’s also a real veteran, since he served in the Navy – as a cook – for twenty years upon graduating high school. As his sizzling Navy days came to end, the guy became a model employee at Target-like retail store called UMart. Nowadays, UMart is what Crowne lives for.
Although he is the store’s shining star (multiple employee of the month honors), apparently you can argue with talent after all…when they do not possess a college degree. Larry is given the boot since the store cannot advance him to other positions. So the settled homeowner, who drives an SUV, starts hitting the pavement to secure another job in his field. Rejections begin to pile up and Larry decides – with an assist from his game show winning neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) – to enroll at a local college.
The classic baby boomer parks the SUV and invests in a more practical, cost-effective scooter. His new choice of transportation catches the eye of a classmate in Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); who thinks he is so cool for taking his first shot at “higher” education. She and her pack of fellow scooters, led by Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama), embrace him into their “gang.” Where Larry doesn’t feel embraced is with his new public speaking teacher Mrs. Tainot (Julia Roberts). This professor has lost her inspiration to mold the young minds based on the fact that she barely has enough students to warrant teaching the class. Her empty marriage to stay-at-home-blogger Dean (Bryan Cranston) contributes to her mild depression and her solution is a diet of margaritas.
So this script isn’t sealed up like an Area 51 file. The audience can predict with great certainty where this is heading. But there is something to be said for the journey that brings them there. Even if it’s not first class.
Initially, the comedic attempts fall flat, and when coupled with the lack of emotional attractiveness to the characters, audience members could be worried on this direction. Julia Roberts is seemingly sleepwalking through her role and the reinvention of Hanks’ character – from a communist wardrobe to trendy adult threads – is mildly amusing. Yet by having a little patience, certain elements start to pays off; and the vanilla first act begins to serve purpose and kind of brings this together later on. Hey, it’s better to start off on safe ground, so there’s room to build toward something. And build they did. Eventually the obvious jokes resonate more with the viewer and all the supporting players start to grow on them. Plus, it’s tough to screw up George Takei as an arrogant professor with his lingering dialogue.
Where this does screw up is in the college atmosphere. The subplot revolving around Ms. Tainot and her under-achieving students is very thin and reminds one of the 1987 goofball comedy Summer School. Hanks chose to revisit this angle at random moments that could have easily been erased. The majority of the intended comedy in this sector is poorly nurtured and it feels more like a time filler. But at least we only have to hear Julia Roberts’ annoying laugh just once. Still, it’s tough to tell if the story is trying to capture realistic moments or pose as substantial drama. Best guess is that they’re shooting for something in the middle and it is passable albeit not remotely riveting.
Overall, ‘Larry Crowne’ captures us with enough intrigue via a relatable plot along with watching Hanks helm his first feature production in 15 years. The guy clearly likes focusing in on the physical layouts – which can assist in telling the story – but avoids digging deeper into the subject matter through the characters. What the viewer receives from all this is an average drama, with so-so comedy.
Review by Joe Belcastro