Tom Hanks hasn’t directed a film in almost 15 years, since That Thing You Do! It’s a little fitting, then, that Larry Crowne fits right into that mid-90s aesthetic; it’s got the same on-the-nose use of its soundtrack to punctuate emotional beats, and doesn’t feel like it’s overly concerned with directorial flair or any kind of dramatic sweep. This is filmmaking of the least challenging type; it’s not overly sentimental, at least as far as romantic comedies go, but also seems to have completely forgotten that there were such things as irony and cynicism in the world. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Chicken Soup For The Soul book, and even if the result is astoundingly unsurprising, it still features enough affable good times to be likable.
A lot of that comes from the mellow script, from Hanks and co-writer Nia Vardalos. Vardalos, of course, was the writer/director of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is still the most successful romantic comedy of all time (by a fair margin), and is another breezy, light film that made no bones about wanting to please its audience before any other dramatic concerns were met. Hanks produced that movie, and Larry Crowne is cut from much the same mold, without being too reverential: take two likable actors, throw their characters together on the course towards romance, put the most minor of roadblocks in their way, and sit back and enjoy the show.
It helps that those actors here are Hanks and Julia Roberts, who’ve both trod this ground before in films that no doubt have pride of place in your mom’s DVD collection. Hanks, as the titular Crowne, sees his life mildly fall apart early in the film, when he’s fired from what’s effectively Wal-Mart due to the fact that he chose a career in the Navy over college; his lack of a degree is holding him back from a position in upper management, and as such, existing members of said management decide to let him go rather than keep him in a job where he has no advancement propositions. That’s one of the more elaborate examples of tortured logic in recent movie memory, but it serves to shuffle him off to community college to earn some kind of degree, to prevent such an occurrence from ever, well, occurring again.
There, of course, he meets Professor Tainot (Roberts), and etc., etc. The pair are more institutions now than actors, but they both still have plenty of wattage left in their charm bulbs, and, like her or not, Roberts is still one of those women who seems like she could melt you from the inside out with one of those patentedly huge smiles. Tainot is, alas, married when she meets Crowne, but to give you an idea of the kinds of challenges their characters face, her husband (Bryan Cranston) is unemployed and likes pornography. In any other movie of this stripe, he’d be cheating on her, or beating her up, or something else appropriately melodramatic, but here: he just likes masturbating. You know you’re watching a movie written by a pair of 50-year-olds when self-pleasuring is considered a valid reason to break up a marriage.
Hanks surrounds the pair with a group of generally affable also-rans at the community college, led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia, a free-spirited scooter-rider who takes a shine to Larry, renames him “Lance Corona,” and redoes his wardrobe in an attempt to get him in step with the times. The supporting cast features a few ringers in it, including Pam Grier and George Takei as fellow professors of Tainots, Taraji P. Henson and Cedric the Entertainer as Crowne’s perpetually yard-selling neighbors, and the usual group of actors culled from the Spielberg/Hanks canon, including Dale Dye, Jon Seda, and Rami Malek, all of whom had roles in The Pacific or Band Of Brothers. All of them see their personalities sketched out efficiently, and then they assume their roles as either comic relief or instruments that bring Tainot and Crowne inevitably together rather than being given any kind of real subplot to distract us from the main duo.
If Larry Crowne were music, it’d be the easy-listening station that they play in the dentist’s office to keep everyone docile. It goes to great lengths to never be anything less than pleasant, which also means that it fails to challenge an audience in any meaningful way. Every problem that crops up has a solution that presents itself within minutes; every slightly downbeat moment is immediately followed by something that’ll make you smile. Its sincerity is at times awkward, but then, Larry Crowne isn’t a film that seems concerned with greatness. It’ll settle for just being extremely pleasant.
Trailer 2: Larry Crowne
Sure, I guess old people can make out. I'll allow that.
Larry Crowne Trailer
Tom Hanks? Julia Roberts? Did we just step into the '90s? Nope! Larry Crowne is totally a 2011 dramedy about a man who loses his job, and just maybe discovers himself...right?
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