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Home Blog Popcorn Parent Movie Reviews Movie Review: Larry Crowne (PG-13)

Movie Review: Larry Crowne (PG-13)

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Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

Length: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Age Appropriate for: 13+. There’s no violence or action, but the themes here are more mature, emotional and sexual. One character flirts with alcoholism and drinks so often that others suggest it’s unhealthy; there’s also one passionate kiss between two characters and the mention of pornography, including pictures where well-endowed women wear skimpy bikini tops; and some cursing, including one instance of the f-word. The film certainly skews older, however, with its premise of the recession’s impact on the average American.

In ‘Larry Crowne,’ two huge movie stars pretend to be regular people unfulfilled by their jobs but inspired by each other. Too bad director Tom Hanks doesn’t give us any reason to care.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Larry Crowne” is a movie defined by the word “nice,” in the way that you tolerate a boring friend because, despite his lack of any common interests with you, he’s a “nice guy,” or visits from distant relatives who can’t even remember your kids’ names because they’re ultimately “nice people.” “Nice” is an apologist way to tolerate all the awful things people do, an agreeable way to cover up people’s bad behavior, just so we can avoid conflict or confrontation. In the name of political correctness, we’ve come to accept bad stuff just because it’s too much work to fight against it.

The way we’ve come to define “nice” as a negative word meant to sugarcoat flaws or inconsistencies is the way audiences should view “Larry Crowne,” Tom Hanks’ latest directorial effort. The movie means well, with its themes of reinvention through education and love, but it’s actually completely average, unable to completely commit either to its characters or its attempts to bring them closer to happiness. People may like “Larry Crowne” because it stars Hanks and Julia Roberts, two utterly bankable movie stars defined by their own niceness, but the film is too much of a bland suburban fantasy. A cheating alcoholic and an aimless divorcee can end up together in this illusion, even though they’ve never shared any meaningful moments or relationship development. That’s just how “nice” works.

“Larry Crowne” reunites Hanks and Roberts, who last worked together in 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but this time the movie is fully set in the recession-gripped U.S. of now. In a big-box store somewhere in a suburban California city, Larry Crowne (Hanks), a middle-aged good guy whose wife recently screwed him over in a divorce, gets laid off despite being “Employee of the Month” numerous times over. It’s not personal, the firing staff tells him, but only because he lacks any higher education and can’t advance up the company’s corporate ladder. So what about his 20 years in the Navy and his decades of dedication to the job? See you later, guy.

So Larry decides, with all the simple gusto that comes with so many of Hanks’ characters, to sign up at a local community college. Encouraged by the dean of student affairs to get involved with a little of everything, Larry enrolls in an introduction to writing course, an introduction to economics course and an introduction to public speaking course — the last one coupling him with professor Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), a frustrated teacher who has begun to hate her job not only because she got saddled with an 8 a.m. class but because none of her students really “care.” Neither does her husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston), a “writer” who looks at pornography while Mercedes is at work and who refuses to understand, or totally acknowledge, her unhappiness.

When Larry shows up in Mercedes’ Art of Informal Remarks course, it’s obvious something will happen between the two of them — mainly because something is already happening to him. A new scooter has led him to a new crew of friends, led by classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama), and soon Larry is riding with them, wearing the new clothes Talia gives him and beginning to better understand the economic conditions that stripped him of his job and saddled him with debt. How Mercedes fits into his new life, and whether Larry can fully turn things around for himself, drive the film’s narrative.

But the film itself is like a scooter: It dribbles along at an acceptable pace, undefined by any danger or risk, and is ultimately not as cool as a motorcycle (the action thriller of this hypothetical scenario, of course). Everything you think will happen in “Larry Crowne” does happen, and while it’s a feel-good movie that will certainly please some audiences, it’s also only tolerable because of Hanks and Roberts, whose entire careers have been built on their likability. Roberts does her thing and guffaws unnecessarily, flashing that enormous smile; Hanks gazes at women meaningfully and offers up gentle words of wisdom. Alas, no Forrest Gump accent.

As director, though, Hanks could have done so much more to make “Larry Crowne” something better, a film more developed and less about getting Mercedes and Larry to end up together. It’s mostly a lighthearted drama, but the real funny comes from George Takei of “Star Trek.” As Dr. Matsutani, a sarcastic economics teacher intolerant of phones and insistent that students read his course pack, his interactions with Larry, so often based around Larry’s novice skills with texting, are hilarious.

But including Dr. Matsutani, each character in the film is defined by only one trait — Mercedes by her dissatisfaction, Larry  by his pleasantness, Talia by her sass — and too often they make choices that seem completely out of line with how we’re supposed to view them. Talia knows Larry got laid off because of his lack of college experience, so why would she waffle on her education? Mercedes is all about inspiring and encouraging her students, but why doesn’t she offer any feedback about their assignments, or even take the time to master their names? And Larry, sweet Larry. How does the man who comes off as so principled make the choices he does with Mercedes? Poor form.

If Hanks could have looked past what America expects of him and Roberts, he would have had a chance to make “Larry Crowne” more of a believable film, one where stuff actually happens for a reason and a purpose. But he’s so limited by the idea of himself as a standup guy and Roberts as an undeniable sweetheart that he fails to create characters audiences actually like. “Larry Crowne” will make you feel good, I suppose, but only if you’re the kind of person who tolerates “nice.” Don’t settle like Hanks does, though. Demand better.

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