Directed by: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, George Takei
Running Time: 1 hr 39 mins
Release Date: July 1, 2011
PLOT: Larry (Hanks) loses his retail job and decides to go to community college. Ms. Tainot (Roberts) is his speech teacher who is going through struggles of her own.
WHO’S IT FOR? If you’re looking to stare at Hanks and Roberts you’ll have a chance. Otherwise you need to keep in mind this is a quiet little story about an aging man finding his way.
EXPECTATIONS: I, like you, like America, love Tom Hanks. I still like Julia Roberts. While I thought Hanks’ That Thing You Do! was nice, I didn’t think it was one of the best things Hanks has ever produced.
Tom Hanks as Larry Crowne: Larry loves his job at UMart. Working the floor, cleaning up vomit, pushing carts … he loves it. It’s unquestionable. He also knows he’s good at it, expecting “Employee of the Month.” So when he’s fired, he’s lost his identity. It doesn’t feel that way though. After job searching for less than a week, he decides it’s off to community college. Eventually, his dorky/average Joe look is transformed. Eventually, Larry looks like … Tom Hanks. It’s not the visual transformation that bothers me here, it’s that I barely see how Larry changes. Sure, his economics teacher TELLS me Larry is good in class, and yes he does give a decent speech in speech class, but I don’t see the actual change over the course of time. So, I’m just watching Tom Hanks give a quiet performance as a simple man. I was hoping for more.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia: You might be wondering why I’m talking about Mbatha-Raw before Roberts. That’s because she has more screen time. At least it feels that way, and not in a good way. Talia is the type of person that grabs on to people and changes them. Talia doesn’t change people because they ask, or because she gets to know them, she does it for her own amusement. Talia is amused by Larry. She changes his name to Lance Corona because it amuses her. She changes his apartment, his look, and kisses him for her amusement. She also has a boyfriend. Doesn’t she sound like a joy?! Here’s the thing. We’ve all met a Talia. It feels great for a while if we are the ones who get all this attention thrown at us. It’s addictive. But we aren’t getting the attention, Larry is. Watching this performance is painful. Ms. Tainot calls her a irritating free spirit. I completely agree. I would have believed Talia was a wannabe actress, not a wannabe business owner. That’s how this comes off. Also, was there supposed to be some lesson about staying in school here? Because I missed it.
Julia Roberts as Mercedes Tainot: This is a case where I didn’t care for the character, but Roberts is able to rise above and make it bearable. As a community college professor, Mercedes wants more out of life. After all, her point for every student is to “CARE” even though she doesn’t. That’s good motivation for her, but it really doesn’t fit for Larry’s life. He already cares. Her relationship with her husband, yup she’s married to Dean (Bryan Cranston), is even more confusing. She’s annoyed by him. It mainly seems like this annoyance stems from him being a semi-successful author. Actually, that’s never clear. Is he broke? Does he really look at swimsuit models all day? The movie seems like it shifts gears whenever the focus is on Ms. Tainot. The flow just isn’t there. One more thing, she’s a functioning alcoholic, right? Oh wait, that’s supposed to be amusing. Never mind, sorry I pointed that out.
Rest of Cast: George Takei plays economic professor Dr. Matsutani. The running gag is that he keeps taking Larry’s cellphone away during class. It never felt like much of a gag to me. Takei’s voice helps anything, but there are moments of forced laughter and supposed jokes that left me wondering if Dr. Matsutani is in on the joke, part of the joke or just a joke. Also, he’s a little full of himself considering he’s teaching at a community college. Wilmer Valderrama plays Dell Gordo. He’s Talia’s boyfriend who is upset with the attention Talia gives Larry. He also knows that Talia flirts with everyone, and everyone is addicted to her. Fun times. Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson play Larry’s neighbors Lamar and B’Ella. They run a yard sale. Lamar negotiates, negotiates and negotiates. Henson plays B’Ella with a squeaky voice. I don’t know how these two fit in to the big picture of the story, besides Lamar selling Larry the scooter. It also feels like both should have been played by actors 40 years older.
TALKING: There are so many times in this film that feel like almost jokes. Talking mildly about porn, Facebook, GPS devices and cellphones seems like something that should have been done years ago. Nothing is really fresh. The classroom seems almost pointless when they aren’t played for laughs. A speech about pasta? No thanks, Hanks. Even the explanation for Larry getting fired doesn’t make a ton of sense. There are many people who remain managers at retail stores, and never aspire to be corporate. Even Cedric the Entertainer has light dialogue. At one point he says, “The man wanted you gone. I should know, look at my skin color.” That doesn’t pop, it feels like the most basic thing that can be said.
SIGHTS: I like to think of it as kissing. I like to. But when Hanks and Roberts do it in this film, all I can think is, it’s more like two people mushing and smashing their heads together. It doesn’t feel romantic or pleasant. Also, right after Larry gets his hair cut, tell me he doesn’t look like Forrest Gump. Heck, because Hanks tried to create this simple character, it even feels a little like Jenny taking advantage of Forrest.
SOUNDS: ELO starts things off with “Hold on Tight.” It’s a good enough song, but doesn’t fit Larry’s motivation, since he’s all about change and letting go. I know, I know, it’s just a song. The other songs consist of three, yes THREE Tom Petty songs. Why? Let’s dive in. Larry never references his love of Tom Petty. In fact, Larry never references all of the old vinyl he has sitting on the shelves. They aren’t new Tom Petty songs. So, we must conclude Tom Hanks likes Tom Petty. But why would Hanks want me to think about his taste in music, if I’m supposed to be identifying with Larry? It doesn’t make sense. Please keep in mind, I love Tom Petty, but there needs to be reasons for the things directors do in movies. The musical score starts out with something that sounds straight out of another Hanks’ film Road to Perdition. It’s an odd fit, but other than that, the music is forgettable.
BEST SCENE: It’s the first day of class, and it’s early. Roberts nails the annoyed teacher bit while talking to her Speech class. It’s better than any single moment Cameron Diaz has in Bad Teacher.
ENDING: It seems like there are two endings here. One happens in the diner, one happens at Larry’s apartment. One has bad dialogue about not being an “Easy A.” The other has more face smashing.
QUESTIONS: Is it just me, or do they not really get in to the financials of Larry’s situation all that much? Also, Larry didn’t want a future with being a cook, but he was thrilled at the chance to jump back into the kitchen, right? Isn’t it always a fun game to see who gets the one f-bomb in a PG-13 movie? This one goes to Roberts. Larry Crowne wins for oddest end credits, right? Hanks and Roberts waving to the audience on a scooter. Seriously?
REWATCHABILITY: No. I’d rather not. It does seem like a film I’m going to love to talk about with others though. If you think it’s better than average, I can’t wait to find out why.
Flat. That’s the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Larry Crowne. The second would probably be simple. It’s a drama that wishes it was a comedy. Or maybe it’s a comedy that hopes it has some tender moments. I didn’t find much of anything with Larry Crowne.
Is Larry changing, or does he affect change in those around him? Sure Talia grabs on to him like a life-size doll. She changes his haircut, his clothes and his glasses, but does she really change him? Ms. Tainot has a few fights with her husband and desperately wants students to care. Yet, it never struck me that Larry’s path was connected to caring. He already does. In fact, Larry barely spends any time being depressed. Is that because he’s simple?
Read the plot again. If Hanks and Roberts weren’t in this movie, it wouldn’t get made. Heck, part of me thinks the only way Hanks was able to finance this film was because community colleges and scooter companies MUST have kicked in some big bucks. Are old people going to want to join the Street Patrol and cruise on scooters now? Are community colleges that idyllic? I think the answer to both of those questions is no.
Hanks has the quality of an everyman. He’s better than any other superstar at this. Considering he wrote and directed this movie, I honestly question if he can really identify with every man. When Hanks and Roberts get together, I really hope for more than simple. Small stories can be done right, just look at Beginners and Win Win as examples. Larry Crowne is average, and most surprisingly, forgettable.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10