Tom Hanks’ fans love him as well as the characters he plays, which probably explains why he currently has 19 projects in development. So imagining Hanks as Larry Crowne, the best employee in the big discount store UMart, is no stretch. Nor is it hard to believe he gets fired, for that’s what’s happening all over the country in real life. Throw in the lucky chips of Hanks also directing plus being the co-writer with Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and there’s much to like about Larry Crowne.
We learn little about Larry’s personal background as sits home alone, except that he had a low-key career in a U.S. Navy kitchen. When his neighbor and yard-sale addict Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), advises him to go back to school, Larry takes his advice. He signs up for an economics class and a speech class at the local community college.
Mercedes Tianot (Julia Roberts) is nothing like what her speech class students expect. She’s a sourpuss who hopes there won’t be enough students to show up so the class will be canceled. In reality, she’s miserably married to a no-job loser (Bryan Cranston) who spends his time on porn and reminding Mercedes that small breasts are inadequate.
Larry already feels he’s a fish out of water as an older man in school without having to spend an hour each class period with Ms. Sourpuss. But when Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a perky young student notices he rides a motor-scooter to school, she invites him to ride with her fellow riders. Mbatha-Raw owns this character. Adding a lot of charm to this movie, she’s a TV star (Undercovers) ready to fill big-screen shoes quite effectively.
Julia Roberts & Tom Hanks
Eventually Ms. Tainot thaws, and a spark between her and Larry “supposedly” ignites. Some critics are labeling Larry Crowne a romantic comedy, but actually it’s not. The movie does have some funny moments. Talia is a big flirt with Larry, but she’s young enough to be his daughter and sees Larry as more of a broken spirit she wants to fix. And when some of her actions seem to be misunderstood by Larry, Talia’s boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama) steps in to remind Larry she’s not available. Valderrama provides some great subtle humor in these scenes.
Tom Hanks & Wilmer Valderrama
George Takei unleashes terrific comedic moments as Dr. Matsutani, the economic professor who at one moment seems to threaten his students and the next has a laugh-off with them at his own jokes. The comedy in the film is lessened, however, as Larry and Mercedes’ have some tough issues to face. Many viewers might relate to the sad part of the story involving Larry’s many years working in a kitchen, then giving his all and expecting to be employees of the month only to be fired.
The movie does have heart, which is understandable coming from Hanks, a chameleon-like performer. Although his coupling with Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) left some disappointed by the thick political aspects and Roberts’ over-the-top performance, the two popular actors connect in this film enough for us to buy into the plot.
With its focus on mid-life crisis, Larry Crowne will probably appeal mostly to baby boomers who are desperately searching for something other than big blow-ups in movies like Transformers 4 or yet another 3D disaster.
Photo Credits: Bruce Talamon