As lightweight and unremarkable as it is, it’s tough to hate Larry Crowne. Directed and co-written by Tom Hanks, it’s entirely pleasant and well-acted, as well as brisk (running time: a lean 95 minutes) and able to conjure up a few genuine laughs. But just what the hell is it? A romantic comedy? A sly satire about our current economical situation? An excuse for Hanks to canoodle with old friend Julia Roberts? The on-screen comeback of one Wilmer Valderrama?
None of the above, really. Unable to dedicate a sufficient amount of dramatic weight to any one element in particular, Larry Crowne is a bizarrely amateurish film from one of Hollywood’s most story-based players, the guy responsible for producing damn near every HBO miniseries worth its salt. Here, though, Hanks turns his brain off, constructing a script, alongside co-scribe Nia Vardalos, so wispy that they must have needed a brick of a paper weight to keep it from floating off their desk.
Larry Crowne hints at a few issues, such as marital strife, the loss of jobs in a recession, and the importance of always remaining upbeat in the face of disappointment, but Hanks and Vardalos never pay much attention to any theme. Just when the movie feels like it’s about, you know, to have an actual point, in come the silly, and largely unfunny, jokes and scenes that look like they were much more fun to film than for the audience to watch. One gets the impression that Hanks and Vardalos laughed hysterically while in the writers’ room, thinking they had a slew of killer gags, and, somehow, the rest of the film’s greatly diverse cast agreed with them. Or were just so happy to be in a movie next to Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts that they were willing to accept the script’s insubstantiality.
Only his second go as feature film director, Larry Crowne doesn’t require Hanks to do much heavy lifting, and perhaps that’s by design. A tireless producer and a dynamic actor, he’s unproven as a Mel Gibson-type, a thespian who’s equally gifted behind the camera. And, by the end of Larry Crowne, there’s still no evidence as to whether Hanks’ first directorial work, 1996’s far superior comedy That Thing You Do!, was a fluke. Larry Crowne is too frivolous to provide such a conclusion.
About Larry Crowne, Those Involved In The Production Would Say, “Guess You Had To Be There.”
What’s so frustrating about Larry Crowne is that it wastes several noteworthy components: the easy and breezy chemistry between Hanks and Roberts, a surprisingly enjoyable turn from Valderrama (and to think, he doesn’t say “Tu madre!” once), and a breakthrough performance from gorgeous British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (a performer so energetic and, well, hot that she’s liable to become a male viewer’s new celebrity crush). In fact, the film has a multitude of memorable performances; Hanks and Vardalos surround the protagonist with an array of colorful personalities, all nicely cast and agreeably embodied.
And that protagonist is, that’s right, Larry Crowne (Hanks), a former Navy cook who starts off the movie getting fired from his longtime place of employment, a box company that’s feeling the pinch of tighter, post-Wall-Street-collapse budgets; In his bosses’ eyes, Crowne’s lack of a collegiate education—he whipped up meals for Navy dudes for 20 years, which didn’t allow him the time to get a degree—means he has little advancement potential within the company. This, of course, devastates him, and after a series of failed job interviews, Crowne enrolls in the local community college, which he commutes to riding a goofy scooter sold to him by his garage-sale-obsessed neighbor (Cedric The Entertainer) and his wife (Taraji P. Henson).
It shouldn’t take Syd Field to predict that Larry Crowne’s script leads directly into a Lance Corona/Mercedes Tainot romance, and, though it’s strangely unconvincing, the inevitable rom-com-ish climax is the film’s only payoff whatsoever. Larry Crowne posits itself as an examination of recession-era turmoil, the story of an affable, hard-working man who’s victimized by an economy he had no part in ruining; had Hanks and Vardalos spent more than ten pages writing such a socially aware dramedy, this could have been a welcome look in the mirror for society courtesy of a major studio, in light of the season’s rampant CGI showcases.
But Larry Crowne abandons any topical drama before its first act even concludes; thematic heft is replaced by fluffy caricatures, identified by wisecracks, smiles, and the collective inability to root the film in any kind of tangible base.
Larry Crowne? Should Have Just Named Him John Doe
Larry Crowne is, ultimately, the type of comedy that a younger chap can take his or her grandparents to, not have to explain any complicated events that are happening, and watch ma and pa chuckle at otherwise embarrassingly inane humor. Cranston, for instance, is saddled with the repeated line of, “I love big knockers!”; Hanks, when giving his first in-class speech, talks about the process of making delicious French toast, comforting his fellow students with the preface of, “But I’ll speak in English”; and, after kissing a drunken Roberts while standing on her front porch, Hanks explodes into a bit of noiseless dancing and fist-pumping, which, naturally, Roberts watches through her door’s peep hole. Because, obviously, every guy dances like a buffoon after kissing a girl. Right?
Which leads into the film’s biggest fail: There’s never a sense of why Roberts’ character wants to hook up with Hanks in the first place. After a few scenes of glaring at him like he’s a shameful man-child, Roberts suddenly looks at Hanks like he’s some kind of Adonis, without the script providing any effective set-up or explanation. Thus, Larry Crowne’s central love story is flimsy, a fanciful bond between two grown-ups that’s slightly saved by a couple of enjoyable A-listers who should know better.
Especially Hanks, who’s most to blame here. It’s one thing to make a movie simply for the enjoyment of the process, or to use it as excuse to hang out with your acting buddies, or to try and put grins on viewers’ faces with a happy-go-lucky pic. But at least give us a reason to care.