Theatrical Review: LARRY CROWNE

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
July 1st, 2011

Writers: Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos
Director: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-RawCedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Rami Malek, Grace Gummer, George Takei, Bryan Cranston
Studio: Universal

There’s nothing wrong with crafting a film that is as sugary sweet and gentle as Tom Hanks’ LARRY CROWNE – but that ultimate toothache-inducing sugar is an odd fit for a film that starts off with such blunt emotional trauma to Hanks’ titular character. Larry Crowne is fired from a job he loves and is good at for a reason so weak and nonsensical that it’s hard to tell if it was a product of poor scripting or if it was meant to be extra-insulting to Larry in its very stupidity. We are to understand that Larry has little else than his job at U Mart, and that by losing it, he is now both financially strapped and without a personal identity. But then he gets a scooter and a makeover (including a truly mind-boggling chain wallet and button up shirts from the Ed Hardy outlet) and starts hanging out with twenty year olds and everything is okay. At least, that seems to be the message of the film. He also “discovers” himself – again, thanks to a complete surrender of his now-nonexistent personal identity to said twenty year olds and makeovers.

After getting the boot from U Mart (which is not even a veiled version of Target), Larry decides to get a college education, the lack of which has been holding him back in rising up the ranks of U Mart-ers. Enter East Valley College and its (typically) motley crew of students and educators, including Julia Roberts’ lovely-looking Mercedes (Marcy) Tainot. Larry (with Hanks in standard charming mode) embarks on a journey to educate himself, but this education goes far beyond the classroom, changing the course of his entire life. Toss in a romantic entanglement with Marcy, and it looks like we’ve hit all the right whimsy gears for LARRY CROWNE to zip along like Larry’s gussied-up classic scooter.

Despite slinking around East Valley in clingy wrap dresses with that luminous Roberts glow and flowing mane, the romance element is not an easy one. Or, actually, a very welcome one. Larry is all charm and good nature, especially compared to Marcy, who is just fundamentally unlikeable. Her office at East Valley is crammed with tchotchkes and posters and knick-knacks that bluntly announce that its inhabitant is cultured and vibrant and has interests, yet the only thing Marcy seems to be passionate about for nearly eighty percent of the film is booze. And this isn’t to malign Marcy’s latent alcoholism – it’s a very serious problem – but the very film itself gives little respect to said serious problem. When Marcy finally puts down that goblet of margarita, that’s all she does. She puts down the booze. Alcoholism cured! It’s yet another example of the fantasy land that LARRY CROWNE exists in – the real world shunted aside for easy and cute resolutions.

The film is rounded out with a number of supporting characters that are either totally annoying or oddly engaging, from Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s free-spirited Talia (annoying) to Rami Malek’s dumb bunny Steve (engaging) to George Takei’s Dr. Matsutani (engaging) to Cedric the Entertainer’s neighbor Lamar (annoying) and a bevy of other under-used actors and actresses to spare. Care was surely put in assembling this large cast, but it’s purely Hanks’ show, with periodic appearances by Roberts.

As charming is Hanks is on-screen (and he is, he really is), he’s just not as adept behind the camera, either as director or co-writer with Nia Vardalos (who continues to pen scripts that feel half-baked, and which make MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING look more and more like a one hit Oneder). LARRY CROWNE never feels fully realized or completely cohesive, amiably shambling along for most of its runtime before alighting on a weak romance as its driving force.

Much of the marketing for LARRY CROWNE has played up that romance between Larry and Marcy, which actually has scarce little to do with the bulk of the film. LARRY CROWNE is, shockingly enough, about Larry Crowne and his own personal journey. What’s odd is that we’re expected to rejoice when Larry and Marcy finally embrace (the overwrought, vaguely Lifetime movie-esque score that soars over this interaction tells us we’re supposed to feel warmth and glee for them), but the two have so far exhibited little chemistry or genuine affection for each other. Also, Marcy is married. Also, Larry is Marcy’s student. Also, Marcy is drunk. It’s a whole inappropriate sequence of events that is only somewhat swallowable by virtue of the inherent on-screen sparkle of both Hanks and Roberts (even as ol’ unlikable Marcy). The film would likely be better without it, and much more true to its most basic aims.

LARRY CROWNE often feels like a collected series of feel-good vignettes that have absolutely no relation to the real world. But this is not to say that the film is without some small charms, but it’s also too frequently unrealistic, bizarre, and even somewhat inappropriate to fully harness them. It’s a sweet little summer diversion for anyone looking to escape booming and blasting blockbuster fare. It’s almost instantly forgettable, filled with requisite bits and pieces with little real world application. Why, it’s a bit like cinematic community college.

Grade: C-

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