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4 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Larry Crowne
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Adequate Teacher (and Good Student)"
4 stars

While most major-league summer movies these days go after audiences with all the grace and nuance of a tank division by essentially pummeling them into submission with gimmicks ranging from giant robots wreaking havoc on the cityscape to lingerie models doing the same to male libidos both old and young--often in the miracle of 3D to boot--“Larry Crowne” is more like a cuddly puppy dog that hopes to win your undying love and affection with nothing more than the occasional lick to the face or leap upon the lap. In fact, it tries so hard to be sweet, charming and devoid of irony or guile that some of the more hard-hearted viewers may look upon its basic gentleness, decency and good nature, especially in conjunction with its essentially sunny depiction of people restarting their personal and professional lives set against the backdrop of the currently cratering economy, as an ultra-cynical ploy to lure viewers into accepting a vision of contemporary life far more rose-colored than the kind being experienced by most potential ticket buyers. I suppose I can understand why some might have such suspicions but in the case of this film, they are mostly unfounded because while it is admittedly uneven in spots, it really is a nice and cheerful film that comes as a welcome respite to most of the other multiplex behemoths and a good portion of the reason why it works is because of its innate sincerity and pleasantness. This is cinematic comfort food for a discomforting time and it comes served in just the right-sized portion so that you come away from it feeling satisfied instead of groggy and nauseous.

Tom Hanks, who also co-wrote and directed the film (his first feature effort behind the camera since 1996’s “That Thing You Do”) stars as Larry Crowne, a nice and genial guy who has gone through his life doing everything that he thought was expected of him--he spent 20 years in the Navy, bought a home and now spends his days as the most genuinely enthusiastic employee of a Target-like superstore chain--and finds it all crashing down around him in a manner of minutes when he is informed that he is being fired, ostensibly because he never got the college education that is a requirement for advancement in the organization. Faced with a home that, thanks to the failing real estate market, is now worth less than he owes on it and a job market that doesn’t look kindly upon men of a certain age who are essentially starting all over again in the workforce, Larry is at a loss as to what to do. With nothing else going for him at the moment, Larry decides to enroll at the local community college as a way of restarting his life and while he appears to have only two classes on his schedule, he unexpectedly finds himself falling in with many of his fellow students, a group of cheerful oddballs, most of them scooter and yard sale enthusiasts, who are altogether nicer, kinder and cuter than the ones on display on “Community.” Even more unexpectedly (or perhaps not, considering the casting), he finds himself falling for Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), his communications professor and someone burned out professionally by what she feels is an uninspiring job and personally by an unfulfilling marriage to Dean (Bryan Cranston), a lazy sot who spends most of his limitless free time surfing the Internet for porn, albeit the kind that can safely be displayed in a PG-13 movie.

From a dramatic perspective, not that much of import occurs during “Larry Crowne”--our hero has no big confrontations with jerky teachers or fellow students, he is never in danger of flunking out unless he passes his final exam and he is never called upon to save the day by performing the Triple Lindy. For those who have grown accustomed to laborious plot mechanics to move things along, the relative lack of narrative drive on display here may make the entire enterprise seems kind of pointless but for those who don’t mind a film that favors occasionally rambling character studies over a standard story that goes from point A to point B in the most direct manner possible, this film will seem like a blessed relief. While watching it, I was reminded of the wonderful early films of Jonathan Demme, who specialized in eccentric character studies in such still-delightful works as “Citizen’s Band,” “Melvin and Howard,” “Something Wild” and “Married to the Mob” (and if you haven’t seen any of those titles and know Demme only from “Silence of the Lambs,” I urge you to check them out as soon as possible--you won’t regret it) and who Hanks, who won an Oscar under Demme’s direction for “Philadelphia,” has clearly adopted as a sort of guiding spirit here. The trouble is that the film at times feels like a Demme film writ a little too large for its own delicate sensibilities in the way that the screenplay (which Hanks co-wrote with Nia Vardalos, she of the infamous “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) sometimes lays its eccentricities on a bit too thickly to be believed, such as a lot of the stuff involving Talia (the wonderfully named Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a comely and quirky co-ed who has apparently chosen to spend her life pretending that she is the Natalie Portman character from “Garden State,” and everything involving Mercedes’ boorish husband, material that is so clunky and stereotypical that while I cannot prove it for sure, I somehow suspect that it flowed almost entirely from Vardalos’ pen. Another difference between Demme’s films and this is that Demme often chose to work with lesser-known actors whose lack of any overwhelming star baggage allowed them to fit in better with their more naturalistic settings. By comparison, “Larry Crowne” features two of Hollywood’s most familiar faces trying to pass themselves off as the kind of utterly ordinary people that one might encounter in Target or at a community college and while it was almost certainly the combined star wattage of Hanks and Roberts that got such a seemingly non-commercial project produced in the first place, their combined screen presence at times threatens to throw the delicate balance of the film out of whack--it is a bit hard to swallow Mercedes bemoaning the demise of her love life when she is embodied by the likes of Julia Roberts. (Not only that, the film also offers up the sight of Pam Grier as one of her teaching colleagues--all the school would have to do is put their photos on a recruiting pamphlet and they would probably get more applicants than Harvard.)

And yet, while I was constantly aware of these flaws, I never really found myself overly minding most of them because so much of “Larry Crowne” does genuinely work in spite of those missteps. As a director, Hanks is generous to a fault and while he and Roberts have the central roles, there is a large and able supporting cast on hand and he allows each of them to have a moment to shine--one of the best and most unexpected of these come from none other than George Takei, the former Mr. Sulu who scores a lot of big laughs as Larry’s economics professor (and who doesn’t take part in the film’s one “Star Trek”-related joke)--without ever letting things run on too long in the way that Judd Apatow’s productions sometimes do in his quest to shoehorn every friend, colleague and hanger-on into the proceedings. At the same time, Hanks brings a laid-back sensibility to the proceedings that is refreshing in the wake of one hard-sell epic after another. As for Hanks and Roberts, while I do feel that the film might have been more effective with less familiar actors in their roles, both are admittedly quite good here--the former does a good job of portraying both Larry’s essential decency and his confusion and fear over being left with virtually nothing after spending an entire lifetime supposedly doing all the right things and Roberts gives one of her most engaging performances in a while as the brittle educator who finds herself unexpectedly snapping out of her own funk thanks in part to the influence of a most unexpected student. Best of all, there is blessedly no point where Roberts gives Hanks some variation of the expected speech about how he really taught her after all--trust me, only the dullest of viewers will find themselves missing such a moment and it is entirely likely that they will be too busy watching the likes of “Transformers 3” to even notice.

Granted, some may find the middle-of-the-road tendencies of “Larry Crowne,” ranging from the smooth visual style to the AOR-friendly soundtrack (I once saw a 4-hour documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and I don’t think it contained as many Petty songs as are heard here) to be a little hard to swallow--at times, it feels as if it was made by, for and about people who have never voluntarily listened to a single Eminem song before in their lives. In other words, it may not be flashy enough to get inordinate amounts of pre-release hype but for audiences who are too old for the stupidities of “Transformers,” too straitlaced for the freakiness of “Tree of Life” and too dignified for the raunchiness of “The Hangover: Part II” or “Bridesmaids”--my venerable mother, in other words--this the kind of simple and sturdy entertainment that Hollywood used to seemingly crank out with ease once upon a time before abandoning such viewers in order to target mallrats with filmed toy commercials. Like Larry Crowne himself, “Larry Crowne” isn’t perfect by any means but if you allow yourself to fall underneath its gentle spell, you are likely to walk away from it with a smile on your face and good feelings inside.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21732&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/30/11 23:00:00
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User Comments

9/17/16 Jamie Fun cast but too bland. Always like Julia but felt like it was a repeat performance. Boring 3 stars
6/16/12 Ady boy I dig the point of this picture, but it isn't told very well. Not at all. NO. 2 stars
4/28/12 Rob Roy I thought Nia Vardalos lost it, but then she never had it. 2 stars
9/10/11 Jeff Wilder Hanks is good. But the movie as a whole is lightweight, smarmy and predictable. 2 stars
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  01-Jul-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 15-Nov-2011


  DVD: 15-Nov-2011

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