“Larry Crowne,” written by Nia Vardalos and Tom Hanks, directed by Hanks, rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Though he’s years removed from his days as a perennial Oscar favorite, audiences still associate the name Tom Hanks with quality.
In Larry Crowne, the title role of his latest film, Hanks creates yet another endearing character to win viewers over. Where other movies might drown in sympathy for a character so seemingly down in life, Hanks plays Crowne as a man with too much self-respect for a pity party.
Two years after a difficult divorce, Larry finds solace in his low-level team leader job at U-Mart. He’s the kind of guy who makes an otherwise monotonous hourly job fun, building a work environment.
All of that disappears when he’s called into the break room one day. He assumes it’s to receive his ninth employee of the month honor. Instead, U-Mart fires him, citing his lack of a college education as the reason (he worked as a Navy cook out of high school). The smug and lackadaisical nature of U-Mart’s higher-ups leaves the scene feeling cold, but there’s a strangely comedic undertone to it all.
Larry picks himself up, however, adjusting his life to his new income, and begins taking courses at a local community college. “Larry Crowne” is sort of an inverted version of “Big,” as it pushes Larry to recapture his lost college years as a 50-something.
He joins a moped “gang” with his new college acquaintance Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), ditches the tucked-in polo look for a new rock-star wardrobe, becomes giddy over his public speaking professor Mrs. Tainot (Julia Roberts), and gets reprimanded for texting during class.
If this sounds like a typical fish-out-of-water story, that’s because it is. “Larry Crowne” achieves just what it sets out to do and nothing more, fitting in well alongside Hanks’ directorial debut “That Thing You Do!”
Through sheer will, however, Hanks turns material that should be mediocre into something that’s fairly entertaining. With the help of a strong supporting cast, including a scene-stealing performance from George Takei as an economics professor, Hanks does everything he can to keep his audience smiling, even if that means having Larry accidentally moon us in his tighty-whiteys.
Some of the jokes work, others feel forced, but in the end they play a minor role in “Larry Crowne.” The film is reliant on Larry’s spirit and full-steam-ahead attitude to win viewers over. Hence the title.
In a time when almost everything seems to be falling apart around us, I think we could learn a little something from Larry Crowne.
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