Larry Crowne is a difficult film to critique. Tom Hanks, who directed and stars in the picture, co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos whose script for My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of the most clever and effortlessly entertaining of the last decade. When watching Crowne, though, the audience can feel Hanks’ predilection for standard 90s Hollywood rom-com conventions overshadowing Vardalos’ brilliant characters and witty dialogue. This is understandable. After all, what could Vardalos do, say “No” to Tom Hanks?
The movie is very apropos of the world in which we are currently living. It addresses a lot of issues relating to economic conditions, generational differences and swallowing one’s pride. (Jason Reitman’s 2009 film Up In The Air touched on the same themes, but was much more successful and prophetic.) Hanks stars as Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man who is a Team Leader at retailer U-Mart. Larry loves his job and is good at it, as evidenced by his eight Employee of the Month titles. When corporate decides to restructure and require all upper-management personnel to have at least some college completed, Larry is summarily fired because he chose to join the Navy (serving 20 years) instead of going to college.
While trying to figure out how he is going to survive, his neighbor and professional yard sale proprietor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), encourages him to enroll in community college and get a degree so that he can never be laid off again. Larry jumps into higher education with both feet and becomes taken with his speech professor, Marcy Tainot (Julia Roberts), who is alluring but also frightens him a little.
Larry Crowne is filled with wonderfully unique and hilarious characters reminiscent of Greek Wedding, but their screen time is sacrificed for the mundane boy meets girl story. For example, Larry becomes friends with Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free-spirited and laid back student who invites Larry to join her scooter gang. Talia’s boyfriend is Dell (Wilmer Valderrama) whose overprotective nature is probably not unwarranted. Lamar and his wife B’ella (Taraji P. Henson) are living the high life off his winnings on a game show and the income earned from the standing yard sale they have every Saturday. These are terrifically drawn characters which deserve to be showcased in a movie much better than this.
Hanks himself does a terrific job making Larry a lovable goofball who isn’t dumb (he’s actually quite intelligent), he just doesn’t have the formal education that is a necessity to get practically any job these days. We sympathize with him because we have all been affected by downsizing and layoffs in one way or another. Mainly, though, we connect because it’s Tom Hanks and he always gives a solid performance.
The problem with the movie is the relationship with Roberts’ character, Marcy. She is a burnt out academic who no longer has any passion to teach. The dance of “will they, won’t they” is so tired and trite that is becomes irritating. Why couldn’t the movie been just about Larry? The love interest does nothing to serve his story and detracts from an otherwise very pleasant movie experience. Roberts does a perfectly acceptable job in her role, but mainly because there is no real character from which she can build. She’s essentially just playing herself, waiting for Hanks to sweep her off her feet.
Most people will like Larry Crowne if they can get past the worn-out plot points and romantic comedy clichés and just enjoy the entertaining characters and hilarious dialogue.
This film runs 99 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Grade: B –