Larry Crowne (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
2Jul/111

Larry Crowne (2011)

Watching Tom Hanks in Larry Crowne is a case study in evolution doubling back on itself.  Larry's a traditional Hanks archetype, charming with the capacity for staggering levels of niceness, and starts off more as the pudgy nice of You've Got Mail and ends with more of the dark suave nice of Sleepless in Seattle.  So we end where we started, a nice man who ends exactly where he started in personality if not in style.

Evolution is necessary in all walks of life, especially art, and watching a character remain roughly the same for an hour and forty minutes isn't exactly scintillating entertainment.  Oh yes Larry Crowne is nice, and occasionally kind of funny, but centering the film around a character that doesn't really change feels like an error made by someone struggling in Screenwriting 101.  Then a glance at the credits reveals the biggest issue, the film is written by Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.

That movie was a bland fantasy made interesting by her incredibly colorful family lovingly recreated onscreen.  But there's little to hold genuine interest in Larry Crowne unless you find yourself powerfully drawn to bland, pleasant people.  As a writer Vardalos is hellbent on providing us the most simple fairytale possible, that the world is filled with good people who do good things and get good results.  There's no struggle or greatness, just a humble plot car coasting along at a reasonable speed toward a pleasant but uninspiring sunset.

So we watch Larry (Hanks) lose his job at U-Mart because he never got the education he needs to have an appropriate "advancement rating" within the company.  Right here there's a satirical opportunity to rail against the growing necessity of having a degree versus having the right skills.  Instead Larry's eyes go wide, well up just a bit, and decides to go back to school.

And, of course, get a sweet new scooter.

Urged by the dean he attends a speech class taught by Mrs. Tainot (Julia Roberts) who arrives hungover and halfheartedly writes the word "Care" on the blackboard.  It's clear that she does not, and this is a movie starring Tom Hanks, the resolution of that particular plot is as predestined as the fate of a can thrown into a black hole.  Since she has a loser husband played by Bryan Cranston (chewing scenery as only he can to provide some kind of fun) and Larry is recently divorced then another plot thread writes itself into compact completion.

What little changes Larry goes through are the result of his involvement with a scooter gang.  I actually thought this was kind of cute, and led to a few funny moments with the leader putting on a faux-Wild Bunch attitude to mess with Larry.  They're the ones responsible for altering his style, cleaning his apartment, and providing endless distraction during Mr. Matsutaini's economics class.  Mr. Matsutani is played by one of my favorite bit-actors, George Takei, and does a remarkable job turning bland platitudes about economics into genuinely funny dialogue.

These people are all, and I'm tired of saying nice so, pleasant?  Respectable?  Decent?  Utterly boring?  The film is a forty years too late version of the old "new kid in school" tale without any of the bullying or problems with homework.  You know, anything that might make dramatic tension.  It's just a collection of good things happening to good people, or good people that have only been slightly led astray.  That's a pleasant notion in life but as a film it's just not enough.

The only thread that holds any sort of spark is the dissolving relationship between Mrs. Tainot and her husband.  She drinks all night looking bleakly into the distance and he drinks all day looking at porn pretending to be getting some sort of writing done.  They're remarkably succinct portraits of two very different kinds of writers, the one who recognizes the impotence of the intellectual a la Baudrillard, and the other who has let the one success he ever had drive him into a frenzy of useless behavior.  It's a wonder they ever got married to begin with, but with Larry on the scene things get resolved as pleasantly as they can.

Except they never really touch on the whole "adultery" thing that they technically do but whaddyagonnadoaboudit?

It depresses me that this has been in talks or production since roughly 2006. What Hanks sees in Vardalos that leads us to sit through images like this I can barely fathom.

Vardalos' story is given the appropriate direction by Hanks.  They're crisp, clean images with little to challenge our perception of everything.  A little visual evolution tied with Mrs. Tainot's warming as the physical distance between her and the class is lessened with some camera trickery and she joins the frame more, and Hanks takes a chance at one POV shot from a peep hole that contains the most depressing overacting I've seen in Hanks career after his dalliance with Mrs. Tainot.

The old axiom of "you can't judge a book by it's cover" is absurd.  The cover is part of the overall presentation of the product and sets up an expectation to be fulfilled or denied.  Well, Hanks and Roberts and clinging together smiling on a scooter for the poster of Larry Crowne.  That's one cover that gives enough of a solid indication to skip the book, unless you just want to spend time smiling at a screen with a lover for a slight length of time.

If that's the case, why not just look into each other's eyes?  You'd find more sparks than anything in Larry Crowne.

Larry Crowne (2011)
Directed by Tom Hanks.
Screenplay by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos.
Starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Superb movie review!! I watch several movie until I didn’t watch it again. 😉 Larry Crowne is nice an hilarious movie with excitement and fun relevant. Overall I’m so excited to watch it. 🙂


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