STARRING Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, George Takei, Cedric the Entertainer, Nia Vardalos, Pam Grier, Wilmer Valderrama, and Taraji P. Henson DIRECTED BY Tom Hanks SCREENPLAY Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 99 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Universal Pictures DVD EXTRAS Only on Blu-Ray (Boo!)
"Larry Crowne" Review
Larry Crowne is the kind of movie that film critics hate and audiences tend to love, an easygoing and genial comedy with a tremendous amount of heart, a winning cast, a good amount of laughs and stars we know and love doing what we love them doing. In this case, the stars are Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. While neither Roberts nor Hanks could be said to be quite the box-office commando they once were, both remain beloved Hollywood stars with a loyal fan base and a solid box-office record.
There's nothing brilliant about Larry Crowne, but the film is so consistently upbeat and well intentioned that the average moviegoer isn't going to give one iota about its meandering bordering on pointless plot. Hanks portrays Larry Crowne, a 20-year Navy cook (culinary specialist) who went to work at a big-box retailer post-military discharge and after several years of loyalty to the company finds himself let go because he lacks a college education or the potential for advancement. A neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer) convinces him to enroll in a local college where he quickly acquires a puppy dog crush on his pretty speech professor, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), and catches on to the economic theories of a rather unique econ prof (George Takei) while being accepted by his younger peers into a "scooter gang."
Larry Crowne serves up fairly tame conflict in the form of Mercedes and her unhappy marriage to a published writer (Bryan Cranston) who spends most of his days at home surfing internet porn and a faux conflict with the boyfriend of his rather hippie chick new friend from class, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
If not for the winning charm of both Hanks and Roberts, Larry Crowne would likely be a flat and uninspired disaster with a few decent laughs but not much else. However, this kind of lovable loser is a familiar and popular role for Hanks and there's enough heart and humor to please most audiences if not the critics. The same is true for Roberts, who isn't doing here anything she hasn't done before, but America likes Julia Roberts this way and she never really hits a wrong note even if certain aspects of the character and situation are a tremendous stretch.
The truth is that Larry Crowne would benefit from more of the Hanks/Roberts magic, with the two sharing a comfortable chemistry and the film's needlessly meandering through a variety of side stories a bit too diluting and unnecessary. There's really not a weak link in terms of the acting, but co-writers Hanks and Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) try too hard to share the wealth with the ensemble cast and in the process lessen the film's biggest assets of Hanks and Roberts.
While much is made out of the fact that Crowne's 20-year military history was as a cook and not an actual "soldier," it's difficult to buy into the idea that this guy's best option post-discharge was working in retail. It's also difficult to swallow, despite the general goofiness of big business, that a loyal and hard working employee would be dismissed (especially in the manner it was done) over an educational issue in a world where exploiting cheap labor prevails. Critics are likely to point out, as well, that Crowne lives quite the charmed life as he seemingly with ease transitions to the academic life, acquires ultra-cool friends and seemingly hits it off quite nicely with a professor. Yet, it would seem that the point being made, and it's rare in film these days because it is birthed out of a lack of conflict, is that Larry's life gets back on track because of who Larry is and how much good he's planting as he moves along. Rather than be victimized by his termination, the perpetually good-hearted and hard-working Larry quickly gets a path figured out, commits to it and keeps moving forward. It's not 100% believable, perhaps, but it's a refreshingly pure approach and both Hanks and Roberts pull it off.
What's a little more concerning is the occasionally massively under-developed characters, including an incredible wasting of the wonderful Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cedric the Entertainer's wife but is essentially saddled with not much more than cutesie spouse comments and occasional sympathetic lines. Pam Grier is here, as well, as a professional peer of Mercedes, but she's wasted. That said, there are some solid supporting players including Bryan Cranston, who makes the most of limited screen time as Mercedes' immature spouse and Wilmer Valderrama, whose body language and facial expressions are a hoot as the boyfriend of Talia who keeps finding the two in modestly compromising yet innocent positions.
A better script and richer characters could have made Larry Crowne a flashback to the glory days of both Hanks and Roberts, but instead it serves more to create a longing for the past. It will be interesting to see if Larry Crowne can hold its own opening against Transformers: Dark of the Moon, another genre of film but very similar to Larry Crowne in the sense of being a light, entertaining and purely fun flick.
It's pretty much a sure thing that most of America will head out to T-3 this holiday weekend, but Larry Crowne is a solid choice for the non-techno crowd and those seeking a more adult-oriented, feel good experience over the holiday weekend. With its meandering script and muted dialogue, Larry Crowne certainly isn't the best of Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts but it does reflect the charm, likability and light humor that we've come to know and love from both stars. This movie may not change your life, but if you give yourself to it you'll leave the theater with a smile on your face.