Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tom Hanks
Stars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, George Takei, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Budge, Cedric The Entertainer, Pam Grier, Holmes Osborne, Wilmer Valderrama.
Despite featuring two of America’s top box office draws in Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, the feel good romantic comedy Larry Crowne has tanked at the box office. This is a light weight and somewhat predictable Capraesque romantic comedy that marks Tom Hanks’ return to the director’s chair for a feature film since 1996’s marvelous That Thing You Do.
Hanks brings his likeable presence to his role as the eponymous Larry Crowne, an eternally enthusiastic worker at U-Mart, a massive department store. But after years of loyal service he is dismissed because he never matriculated from college and his promotional opportunities are limited. Suddenly Larry finds himself struggling to make ends meet.
At the suggestion of his neighbour he decides to enrol in a local community college to complete his education. He studies economic theory under the humourless and pedantic Dr Matsutani (Star Trek’s George Takei, who is great), and public speaking under Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts).
Fellow student Talia (relative newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw, from tv series like Dr Who, Spooks, etc) introduces him to her gang of moped-riding friends, and this relationship also changes his outlook. With a hip new dress style and hairdo Larry undergoes a more youthful transformation and suddenly becomes a lot more “cool”.
Larry gets an education in life, but at the same time he also affects the outlook of those around him, in particular the cold and steely Mercedes. She is dissatisfied with her lot in life, and resents taking a class full of apathetic and disengaged students. She is also stuck in a loveless marriage to Dean (Bryan Cranston, Emmy award winning star of Breaking Bad and Malcolm In The Middle etc), a struggling author who is also an Internet blogger with an obsession for pornography. And she finds refuge in too many drinks. Larry develops a crush on Mercedes, but more importantly he rekindles her enthusiasm for teaching.
This story of a middle-aged man thrown onto the scrap heap and who is forced to reinvent himself has some timely and topical themes, and will resonate with many in these harsh economic times. Hanks has co-written the film with Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame), and despite its thin plot the story has a ring of truth about it. While it might pretend to be a paeon to middle-aged malaise, Larry Crowne is more about getting rid of your baggage and moving on with your life.
But while Hanks is star, writer, producer and director, this is not a vanity project and there is no hint of ego in the material. This is a bright and breezy and moderately entertaining film, with some very funny moments throughout. Hanks maintains a leisurely pace throughout, and his unhurried approach to the meandering plot allows audiences time to warm to the central characters.
Hanks is a very personable performer and he imbues the affable Larry with an upbeat and positive energy, and the audience willingly identifies with him and his situation. The film also affords Roberts a rare opportunity to show off her flair for light comedy. Hanks and Roberts worked together previously on Charlie Wilson’s War, and they quickly develop a rapport that makes their relationship believable. Their palpable chemistry sparkles, and lifts the material.
Hanks has traded upon his reputation and clout in Hollywood to populate the film with a lot of well known faces in smaller roles, including Cranston, Cedric The Entertainer, Pam Grier, Holmes Osborne (from cult favourite Donnie Darko, etc), and That 70’s Show’s Wilmer Valderrama. Keep a look out for Aussie actor Tom Budge, who also has a small role.
The soundtrack uses E.L.O.’s Hold On Tight and Tom Petty’s Running Down A Dream to further imbue the material with an upbeat undercurrent of optimism that subtly reinforces the film’s message of never losing sight of what you want from life.
Hanks is as likeable as ever, and while Larry Crowne may not be the best film of his career, it is an enjoyable enough romantic comedy that will please many.