He’s Larry Crown with an ‘e’.
For some time, Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) was movie gold, he made one hit film after another with two of his performances resulting in the coveted Academy Award. Julia Roberts hit the big time when 1990’s Pretty Woman catapulted the Smyrna, Georgia native into superstardom; she too received an Oscar, for the overrated Erin Brockovich. Fast forward to 2011 and although still on the A-list, both actors are a far cry from the days when just their names on the marquee would bring in droves of movie goers. As is the way in Hollywood, one day you’re up and the next you’re on an episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Of course Hanks and Roberts have not sunk to those depths but there was a time when a collaboration between these two powerhouses would’ve been an assurance of box office success.
Larry Crowne isn’t an Oscar caliber film, it is, however, a quirky, fun picture that is different and frankly much better than your standard rom-com. Written, produced and directed by Hanks, it didn’t fill theater seats or get rave reviews, but it is a classic Hanks film: filled with humor, warm characters and simple themes that the average Joe and Jane Six Pack can relate to. More than likely a victim of the larger summer blockbuster releases, it is a film that is much better than advertised.
Larry Crowne (Hanks) loves his job. He works for a WalMart type superstore called Umart and shows up each day, eager and enthusiastic. When Crowne loses his job because he lacks a college degree, he must, in his 50s, start his life over; so he decides to take some classes at the local community college. His first experience in higher education is with a bitter and burned out speech instructor named Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), who lost her enthusiasm for teaching a long time ago. Crowne makes some new friends with a young scooter gang led by a free spirited young woman named Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw Undercovers), who takes Crowne under her wing and helps him gain the courage to finally begin living his life. With Talia’s support and the hopes of a romance with Mercedes, what once seemed like dire circumstances turns out to be a positive life changing experience.
I liked Larry Crowne; I didn’t expect to like it but I did. It is quirkier and funnier than I expected and I found myself giggling frequently throughout the film. Larry Crowne takes simplistic themes and weaves them together in a way that is different than I expected from a romantic type comedy. The difference is the bulk of the film isn’t spent on the romance or even the chase of the romance, but on a man who was quite happy in his dead end job and the semi-lonely life he led after a divorce. Larry is blissfully ignorant to how empty that life had become, and doesn’t realize that he even wanted things to change, until they do. When push comes to shove, Larry takes his new challenge head on, meeting some very interesting people along the way.
The script is a nicely written story that capitalizes on the current day’s predicament, where job security is non-existent and many Americans find themselves starting over at an age when the only thing they should be thinking about is what to do after they retire.
Hanks and Roberts have a wonderful onscreen chemistry; sure, he looks more like her dad than a romantic partner but it doesn’t come off as creepy. Her bitter and burned out portrayal of Mercedes plays well against Hanks’ optimistic glass half full Larry Crowne. While Mercedes feels stuck in a dead end job and marriage, she finds Larry’s hard work and determination inspiring at a time when she thought that she’d never encounter another ambitious student again. I’m not the biggest fan of Julia Roberts but I think she did the bitter forty-something woman very well and I enjoyed her in this role. Tom Hanks has always been an unlikely lead actor, he doesn’t have the movie star good looks but still shines in these everyman roles almost in the same way Jimmy Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life) did in his heyday. Hanks’ acting, as always, seems effortless and he plays Larry Crowne as if he’d taken his real life persona and projected it into the life of this fictional character.
Larry Crowne has a supporting cast of actors that bolster Hanks’ performance; they’re not just on screen to make the Oscar winner look good. Cedric the Entertainer (Ice Age) and Traji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) portray Larry’s good friends and neighbors Lamar and B’ella, who win the lottery then decide to open a second hand store right in their suburban garage. I’m sure they must be breaking several neighborhood covenant laws. Cedric is funny as usual and it seems that he and Hanks have a genuine admiration for each other that spills into their on screen friendship.
On his first day of class Larry meets Talia, she is the resident free spirit who doesn’t follow the normal rules that us mere mortals live under. Talia could’ve been portrayed as some harebrained post modern flower child, but Mbatha-Raw plays her as an intelligent young woman with an exceptionally positive outlook on life and the people she meets along the way.
I gotta give props to George Takei for his portrayal of the eccentric Econ 101 professor, Dr. Matsutani, and Wilmer Valderrama as Talia’s boyfriend, Gordo. Takei’s scene stealing performance as the bizarre economics instructor seems more appropriate in a movie like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but it works in Larry Crowne, adding to the slightly quirky nature of the film. Valderrama has shaken the image of the child-like Fez from the ’70s themed sitcom, and he is quite funny in the role of the boyfriend worried about his girl’s friendship with the much older Crowne.
Larry Crowne is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Extras include the typical making of featurette and some behind the scenes fun on the set, as well as a few deleted scenes. This film is not a philosophical tour de force but that’s just fine; sometimes a person just wants to watch a simple little movie, with likeable characters. If you’re looking for a funny film that you can enjoy with the entire family, this fits that bill.
Maybe this was a victim of a movie studio that wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, or audiences just weren’t in the mood for a sleepy little film released during a summer that saw Thor and Captain America plunder through theaters. Although I enjoyed those two superhero flicks, sometimes it’s just nice to watch a movie where character is key and the action is inconsequential to the story.
The ladies and the fellas should dig this one. Not Guilty.
Larry Crowne (DVD)
2011, Universal, 99 minutes, PG-13 (2011)
VIDEO: 2.40:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH), French, Spanish
EXTRAS: Deleteded Scenes, Featurettes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB