A comedy for the 40-and-older crowd that is too saccharine sweet.
It’s hard to believe that fifteen years have past since Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do! Arriving at the apex of his career as a movie star, the musical comedy allowed Hanks to try something different. Although it would be another fourteen years before Hanks would take another crack at making a feature film, he bolstered his resume in front of the camera, and as an executive producer and director on the landmark mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and Band of Brothers. He also produced one of the most unlikely box office hits of 2002, the romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Just as Hanks was enjoying unparalleled success as a leading man – okay, Will Smith’s ascension as a matinee attraction can’t be ignored, either – Julia Roberts was coasting on her Pretty Woman fame. She became one of the go-to gals for romantic comedies being paired opposite the likes of Dermot Mulroney, Hugh Grant, and John Cusack. Yet she was never matched with Tom Hanks. Had their paths crossed in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s it probably would have been one of the most successful rom-coms of the year, if not the decade. They would collaborate in 2007 on Charlie Wilson’s War, but that was a biographical comedy-drama.
Larry Crowne is their second collaboration together. Playing in theaters the same weekend as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the comedy is supposed to be counter-programming for all the whiz-bang special effects, explosions and processed cheese dialogue we’ve come to expect from summer blockbusters. It’s targeting adult audiences in a season where grown-up entertainment is in short supply.
Larry Crowne is a lightweight comedy that does what it’s supposed to do: appeal to adults in the safest way possible. It’s a predictable story geared in such a way that it allows older audiences to indulge in its sugary sweetness and not worry about getting cavities. It works because you have two falling stars still wanting to burn a little longer and not fade away into obscurity.
Opening in upbeat fashion – a credit title montage with Larry Crowne as an eager beaver at his place of work, U-Mart – you get the sense that Crowne loves his job. Making sure everything is spic and span, from picking up fast-food garbage in the parking lot to organizing the clothes on hangers, he shows why he’s been the Employee of the Month for eight consecutive months. Called to the common break area thinking it’s for another EotM honor, he is instead laid off. Lack of a post-high school degree is the reason. Drowning in debt and no luck getting another retail job, he swallows his pride and signs up for three classes at a local community college.
Julia Roberts, making her presence known in haggard fashion, is Mercedes Tainot, a public-speaking instructor who has grown tired with the teaching profession. But she as well swallows her pride (and takes a few swigs of alcohol) to make it through the day. Her home life isn’t much better. Married to a professional blogger (Bryan Cranston in a wasted role) who spends his afternoons looking at Internet porn, in which the raciest content is women in bikinis (remember this is a “safe” comedy), it’s clear that the signpost of her marriage reads “dead end.”
It’s no mystery what happens next. Larry Crowne has Mrs. Tainot as a teacher and becomes smitten. She is slow to give in to her attraction but eventually caves. We know this much from the TV spots and trailers already, but Larry also has another woman in his life. Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free-spirited college hipster, befriends Larry when she sees him parking his Vespa with the rest of the scooters on campus. Later she introduces him to a “scooter gang” (comprised of other college hipsters who commute on motor scooters) that is as intimidating as Pee-Wee Herman in a bar full of drunken bikers.
Marketed as a romantic comedy, Larry Crowne is more about Larry dealing with joblessness and filling that void thanks to the generosity of strangers. Talia inspires Larry to venture outside his comfort zone. Mercedes inspires Larry to have confidence, even if it’s talking in front of a class where ten pairs of eyes are staring back at you.
Sweet and wholesome as it is, it’s too forced with its niceness. Tom Hanks, who co-wrote the script with Nia Vardalos (of Greek Wedding fame), takes a problem like unemployment and focuses on the positives. The film doesn’t openly mock the idea of losing one’s job, but its Frank Capra-esque tone may insult the intelligence of those who have a hard time believing Larry Crowne’s situation would be solved after a semester of community college.
Still, as an uplifting fantasy in an It’s a Wonderful Life meets Community sort of way, Larry Crowne is the type of old-fashioned star vehicle that will be championed by older viewers looking to take in a movie that doesn’t involve robots, hangovers, or a lime-colored superhero.
Director: Tom Hanks Notable Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Bryan Cranston Writer(s): Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!