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Movie Review: ‘Larry Crowne’ (Take Two)

July 1, 2011
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I never knew just how much someone could cram into one semester of community college. In my first semester of school I learned a hell of a lot about structuring a paper, Puritans, how to construct a PowerPoint, and rum. Oh, and how to function on three hours of sleep. In Larry Crowne, our humble protagonist learns feng shui, a bit about economics, joins a scooter-driving gang, and gets a trendy makeover. Oh, he also learns how to give a heartfelt speech and he falls in love. Now, I realize that no two college experiences could ever be exactly the same, but I didn’t know joining a gang (an eco-friendly gang at that) was even a viable option. I’m starting to worry I missed a section in the catalog of classes.

These experiences are just a few that fill Larry Crowne’s life throughout the duration of the film. Larry is played by Tom Hanks, who also directed and wrote the film (along with Nia Vardalos). He has made a career out of playing the “every man” and this character is certainly no exception. Larry Crowne, however evokes more cheerfulness than even Forrest Gump could summon. The film opens as he begins his day, working diligently at U-Mart, a chain strikingly similar to Target. He stocks shelves, moves fixtures and cleans vomit with a smile that could easily get him a role in a commercial for the store. There is no sarcasm in his love of work and it comes as a complete shock to him when he is fired due to a lack of education. He believes he is going to receive an “employee of the month” plaque, but instead he becomes further evidence that even the best employees can’t be guaranteed a stable job in corporate America.

Instead of festering, Larry opts for adult education. At the advice of his neighbor (played by Cedric the Entertainer), he signs up for two classes at the local community college, sells his gas guzzling SUV for a energy efficient scooter, and prepares for good things in his life. He makes new friends, learns new things and finds new interests. These interests are predominately in his speech teacher, Ms. Tainot played by Julia Roberts. Her bitterness about life can only be matched by Larry’s blind optimism. She despises teaching so much that she counts the filled chairs on the first day of class, hoping they will be under the minimum of ten students so she can go home instead of work. She hates her husband because he looks at soft-core porn throughout the day and this discontentment causes her to drink her dinner on a nightly basis. Please note that her margaritas are not a sign of alcoholism and real-life issues, but because seeing a tipsy Julia Roberts, in theory, is an opportunity for a few laughs. A.A. meetings are not the solution to Ms. Tianot’s problems; she just needs to meet the right guy.

Larry, who is instantly hot for teacher, doesn’t spend his time building their relationship. He instead manages to make a handful of friends through a lovely scooter driver named Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) She seems to like him because he’s an old guy who drives a scooter and decides to give him a makeover. In an attempt to make him cool, she changes his name to Lance Corona, gives him a haircut, a scarf and convinces him to join a gang. Yes, his new name is Lance Corona and he seems fine with it. Larry, I mean Lance, never seems to find it odd that he is spending a lot of time with a stunning 20 year-old girl and never seems to feel ridiculous about acting as though he is in her demographic. He drifts through his existence, taking what comes to him and while I admit this seems an appeasing way to go through life, there is no insight or commentary about these experiences. In fact, he doesn’t seem to really be affected in any way. I’m not even sure he notices.

A lot of films are about people forced to change their lives and these journeys always culminate to a better understand of who they are and how they want to live. Larry begins as an amiable fellow, content with his life even if it isn’t the greatest and by the end of the film (yes, spoiler alert) he becomes an amiable fellow, content with his life even though it isn’t the greatest. He goes through a lot of changes, but no growth seems to occur. He, as well as the rest of the characters, conclude as flat and trite as they began. They are all really nice people, who have the symptoms of change, but not the outcome. Alright, Ms. Tainot goes through changes, but the only reason I know this is because during the first half of the movie she never smiles and in the second half she does.

The film is saturated with a supporting cast of stereotypes. There is the token black guy who has a profound monologue that helps the protagonist find his way, the pot head who consistently makes a fool of himself thus entertaining the class and the drab teacher who takes himself too seriously, but really isn’t that bad of a guy. If you are unaware of these characters please track down a copy of Clueless; they should all be there, plus a few that I haven’t even mentioned. Its characters are trite as well, but it is intentional. It is, never thought I’d say this, actually a better film.

There are a handful of humorous moments throughout and, as always, Roberts and Hanks are a pleasure to watch on screen, but there is no depth. A laugh track could have been included and I wouldn’t have been surprised. In That Thing You Do!, Hanks’ first feature, there was bubbly simplicity as well, but the premise was about a youthful 1960s band falling into fame. The fluffiness of the film worked with characters and some of them even seem to grow. Larry Crowne does not.

I will admit that sometimes I wish I could live my life in the blissful naïveté that seems innate within Larry. There is innocence to him that I lost around the death of my first goldfish. While I only felt as though I’d lost everything, Larry nearly does: his job, his car, his home and yet manages to stay hopeful. This, in itself, is a beautiful thing and could have been an interesting premise for a film, but there is nothing going on beneath the surface. Anything sweet, positive or endearing is lost in the subtext. Subtext that I fear never even existed.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Larry Crowne is rated PG-13. Directed by Tom Hanks. Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

 

 

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