Larry Crowne is an endearing romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. While it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, it has some cute moments, and a great pro-education message. It comes out in theaters today, and as dismal as box office reports are regarding its reception, I think it’s a wholesome romcom and worth a watch.
With heavyweights Hanks and Roberts starring, and considering they have been on a whirlwind promotional tour de force, it’s surprising this endearing flick isn’t performing better. There is no doubt that Larry Crowne is Hanks’ baby. The acting legend not only directed the pic, but co-wrote and co-produced it. It has his signature all over it, from the endearing good-guy main character, to the quirky collection of accent characters. It is a well-used format yes, but then that’s because it usually works.
Hanks stars as Larry Crowne, an earnest 50-something who works hard at his menial retail job. He’s never been to college, but that doesn’t mean he’s not intelligent, hard-working, or capable. He spent 20 years in the Navy as a cook, and when he’s suddenly fired from his job because he doesn’t have a college degree, Larry decides to take some courses at the local community college.
As he runs out of money and is faced with the inevitable rejection of job-hunting in today’s economic climate (and at his age), Larry decides to take the bold step of higher education. The dean of the community college, a strangely happy character that just randomly shows up in a few scenes, tells Larry that to be successful in the job market he needs to take Speech and Econ. So he signs up, and is soon introduced to the very dissatisfied professor of Speech, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts).
Professor Tainot is on the border of being a lush, and if there are less than ten students that show up for a class, she uses the college’s ten-students-or-less financial feasibility rule and cancels the class. She is not happy about her 8 a.m. ”everyday conversation” Speech class, and when she tries to evoke the financial feasibility rule on a class with nine students, in walks Larry and his eager learning face.
And so, what you think will happen does happen. Mercedes finds a new zest for teaching in the face of Larry’s immutably hopeful disposition and work ethic, and Larry finds himself. Oh, and they fall in love.
I think this movie plays more like an inspirational drama than a romantic comedy. It is first and foremost about Larry Crowne, and his growth as a person. He not only re-invents himself, but discovers that he can do anything he sets his mind to. The romance is a part of his change for the better, but does seem like a bit of a cinematic side note.
The comedy elements are also on the light side, though there are some great situational laughs, and most of them from the quirky band of supporting characters. There are the stereotypical community college attendees, which make for some good laughs, but are also over-done and clichéd. There was a good bit about scooters, especially effective after Larry changes his gas-guzzling van for an old scooter and is then adopted by a scooter gang. It’s kind of the community college version of a real motorcycle gang.
There is an uplifting and wholesome you’re-never-too-old-to-learn message here as well. Larry finds he can still learn, and make happy changes in his life even at his age. He learns enough in Econ to give his house back to the bank and default on his loan, and he moves into an apartment. He also liquidates most of his assets and gets a job as a line cook. That’s one of the most endearing traits about Larry Crowne, he’s a hard worker, and he’s not proud. He’s just a good guy who has some bad luck, and makes the best out of it.
Community college jokes aside, there is an funny vignette that encapsulates all the good and the bad about two-year educational establishments. Though the bad is presented more as a comedic element than actual criticism, community colleges come out as fun institutions of higher learning for the a-typical student. And though a “college education” is set up as the holy grail at the outset, it soon becomes apparent that the only thing that matters is bettering yourself through learning, and that doesn’t necessarily mean getting a college degree.
Hanks’ directing isn’t overly exciting, but it’s fun. Most shots are pedantic but Hanks sparkles onscreen as the loveable and naïve Larry. Hanks has always been able to flawlessly play the good-guy, and this character fits him perfectly. That being said, I don’t think he stretched in any way, as audiences have seen him play this exact character a number of times.
His chemistry with Roberts isn’t off the charts, but the couple is believable. She’s an uber-educated woman battling with her feelings of not making a difference, and he’s just the fresh perspective she needs. Roberts plays the intelligent cynic with aplomb. Not relying on her typical toothy grin, she actually brought some believable drama to her role, and some heft.
Hanks’ real-life wife Rita Wilson had a small role as a bank agent, and Hanks’ co-writer Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) ended up as the voice of the Map Genie. Other notable supporting characters include an obnoxious neighbor played by Cedric the Entertainer, and Scooter gang leaders Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show).
Larry Crowne is a sweet drama, with some light comedic and romantic elements. It’s also quite relevant in its approach to modern economic times, and a fun but sensitive study of joblessness for an older demographic. In the end, it is a story of hope and should leave audiences with plenty to feel good about.