By Gary Murray
Starring Tom Hanks Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer and Bryan Cranston
Written by Tom Hanks and Mia Vardalos
Directed by Tom Hanks
Running time 99 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Tom Hanks is an institution of virtue in Hollywood. Never one to have any scandals, he’s just the kind of guy that is the best that La-La Land has to offer. His projects have always been consistent and constantly high quality. He has shown a certain knack for both comedy and drama, winning Oscars in the process. There have also been successes behind the camera with awarding winning series and highly praised direction. His latest on both sides of the camera is Larry Crowne, a refreshing breath of adult cinema in this wasteland of summer blockbusters flicks that inhabit the metroplex cinemas.
Larry Crowne the movie is a story about Larry Crowne the man. He was a Navy cook with twenty years under his belt who now works at a big box store U-Mart. Winning employee of the month multiple times, he is called to meet with the big bosses. Thinking he is getting another employee award, he’s told by the big bosses that since he doesn’t have a college degree, he has to be fired.
This is another blow in his life. He’s recently single and took out a second mortgage just to keep his entire house. Deciding to take the reins of his life into his own hands, he enrolls in the local community college.
The dean suggests that he take Economics and Speech. The Speech teacher is Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), a burned out educator who is having her own problems with her desire to teach and her slacking writer of a husband (Bryan Cranston). She looks forward to a class being under ten people so she can cancel the class and still get paid. In the Speech class, Larry is student number 10.
The entire experience of Larry Crowne plays out like a blown-up version of the TV show Community but without the over the top silliness. Larry turns his life around by hanging around with younger people like Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a free spirit who changes Larry’s outer persona (also naming him Lance Corona) while showing him that he does have a second chance at finding love. She is the nymph matchmaker who sprinkles her charming fairy dust into the world.
For anyone who has seen a romantic comedy, you know where all of this is going to end up–the fun of Larry Crowne is in the Vespa scooter journey.
Tom Hanks, the director, knows how to capture Tom Hanks, the actor. Given such a wide berth by his director, Actor Tom takes a giant share of all the funny beats of the movie. He’s the lightening rod of the work and everyone else charges around his central core.
Julia Roberts does a fine job with her role but doesn’t bring anything special to the part. She is such a lauded performer, one expects more from her. This is almost a paint-by-numbers acting job, with little effort and less of an effect.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Talia and is a refreshing face. There is this sparkle in her performance that just takes charge of every scene she appears in. Warm and funny, this is a new star in Hollywood.
George Takei steals every scene he is in playing the Economics professor who seems way too smart to be teaching at a community college. Anyone who has been to a major university has had a class with this guy, the know-it-all in his subject who runs the classroom like his own personal kingdom. It is a joy to see this seasoned veteran get a chance to shine once again. The movie deserves to be seen just for his cameos.
There is something odd about the final product of Larry Crowne. The film feels as if parts are missing. So much is either left unexplained or just hanging in the tethers of plot points. It almost feels like during a test screening, the editors cut everything that didn’t work hoping that the audience wouldn’t notice that details didn’t match up.
Larry Crowne is probably the best romantic comedy of the year, which isn’t saying much. It has been a very bad year for the genre and a mediocre film can rise to the top of a small heap.