Mark Reviews Movies

Larry Crowne


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tom Hanks

Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, George Takei, Wilmer Valderrama, Bryan Cranston, Holmes Osborne, Pam Grier

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:39

Release Date: 7/1/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 30, 2011

The screenplay for Larry Crowne by Tom Hanks (who also directs and stars in the title role) and Nia Vardalos hypothesizes that a romantic comedy can work without unnecessary complications. In fact, the script is, apart from the introductions to the lives of its romantic leads, almost entirely without conflict. While it's nice to not have to deal with the obvious and frustrating bumps in the road that typically accompany the genre, there's also the issue that there's hardly any real challenge presented to its characters for them to overcome.

Our involvement in their inevitable relationship (For a brief, refreshing while, it almost seems as though that might not happen) is set entirely upon the shoulders of the movie's leads. Fortunately, they are Hanks and Julia Roberts, both of whose natural charm can come through given even the weakest material. This is fairly feeble stuff, too—a sitcom scenario with a limited scope (even for its already minimal setup) and all the trappings: the hero whose life is thrown out of balance, the group of somewhat quirky supporting characters, the episodic structuring, the minor will-they-or-won't-they tension, and the list continues.

Even the characters are defined solely on their situations. Larry Crowne (Hanks) starts a happy employee of a big-box store, making work fun and winning employee of the month eight times. He's called in for a meeting with management and learns that there is to be restructuring. Since he bypassed college and a degree for a career in the Navy, he has very little chance of upward mobility, or, in regular-speak, he's fired. "I thought I was going to be employee of the month," he says, after a series of reaction shots to his growing understanding of the situation before him.

In these brief glimpses of developing anguish, Hanks makes Crowne's dilemma painfully real. He absorbs spattered bits of dialogue about bad timing, an ex-wife, and decades having passed until he can barely hold back the tears. The false sympathy expressed by those above him at the meeting only helps to heighten our own genuine compassion for him.

As soon as he's lost his job, he's on the hunt for a new one—making cold calls to and showing up at business that might be hiring. It's always the same answer, and even Larry starts to finish it for them: "Times are tough." On top of that, his house is now worth less than he owes on the mortgage, and with gas prices so high, he invests in a scooter. His neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), a game show winner who holds a perennial yard sale, suggests that Larry look into getting that degree he didn't have a chance to before at the local community college.

Meanwhile, at said community college, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) teaches various English and communications classes that are barely filled to state-required levels and often cancelled as a result. Her husband Dean (Bryan Cranston) works from home as a "new media" specialist, though that seems to mean posting comments on websites and looking at pictures of women in lingerie. The high point of her day is coming home and fixing herself a mixed drink. She and Larry meet when he joins her speech class.

Beyond Larry's unemployment and Mercedes' marital problems, there isn't much to these characters. Mercedes is simply awaiting a breaking point when she's finally had enough of her slacker husband's behavior, and it makes for some stilted dialogue between the two in order to establish their rocky marriage. When that eruption finally occurs (during Dean's second scene in the movie), the result is far too clean and easily accomplished to have meant much in the first place.

Larry's troubles are a tad more complicated but solved just as simply. He undergoes a stylistic transformation led by fellow classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who teaches him how to dress, comb his hair, and just ride around on his scooter with her "gang." His economics teacher (George Takei in a fun role) helps him with his financial difficulties, and the closest anything comes to stalling his predefined progress is the fact that Mercedes suspects he might be involved with Talia, which, of course, is cleared up by a single line of dialogue far into the movie.

If it sounds slight, it is, though it is so in an agreeable enough way. Probably the best example lies in the ending, which foregoes a resolution that offers the promise of something further between Larry and Mercedes for a more direct denouement—what's said pales in comparison to what's previously suggested by a sequence of glances. Despite the charismatic central performances, Larry Crowne might be too happy-go-lucky for its own good.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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