Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Larry Crowne

In Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks’ first directorial effort in 15 years, we’re presented a host of characters and situations that amount to next to nothing, but will pass the time all the same.

Larry Crowne (played with the go-to affability Tom Hanks seems so presently accustomed to) is perfectly content as a worker at a Wal-Mart-type store, humbly making his way toward his ninth stint as employee of the month.  But, because he skipped over college and enlisted in the Navy for 20 years after high school, he is downsized and sent packing.

At the advice of a neighbor, Larry dutifully enlists in community college, and soon meets two women who help propel the movie to shy-guy-on-big-campus, eye rolling wonderment.  There’s Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the coolest girl on campus who gives Larry a new haircut, clothes him in hip threads, and, you know, lets him join her… moped gang.  And Mrs. Tainot (Julia Roberts, being... Julia Roberts) the nasty speech teacher, who takes her troubles at home out on her students.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way.  At my sold out, mid-afternoon, July 4 showing, a majority of the crowd really seemed to enjoy Larry Crowne.  Granted, most of them were over 65, but given the constant chuckles, I think they walked away with a pleasant dose of Capracorn.  And that’s fair, because Larry Crowne is perfectly decent.  It teeters right on the edge of importance and incoherence, nestling itself safely among films of the rom-com persuasion.

And that’s the problem I couldn’t shake throughout the entire movie: the fact that it really could be so much more.

Larry is initially presented as a genial buffoon, but soon turns into some Will Hunting-style economic genius.  Are we really expected to believe that I guy can’t land a job in retail, despite the fact that he can single-handedly refinance his house and guide a friend on smooth small business practices, based on what he learned in one semester of Econ 1? I guess so, because the film never expands on the topic.

And there’s Mrs. Tainot, who drinks too much but apparently isn’t an alcoholic.  Or her husband (Bryan Cranston, in a truly awful, over the top performance), who loves his wife, but is apparently addicted to porn.  Or Talia’s boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama, in a truly awful, too-cool-for-school performance) who is a nice guy, but is apparently some sort of hot head. Or the interesting supporting characters (played by Pam Grier and Taraji P. Henson) who act merely as dialogue fillers.

All these evident issues would make for a far more interesting film, but Hanks, and co-writer Nia Vardalos (still living large off her My Big Fat Greek Wedding royalties) decide to play it annoyingly safe.

Watching Larry Crowne is like eating soft serve ice cream on a hot summer night.  It’s cool when you begin, but by the end, you’re left with a gooey mess, and questioning why you even bothered in the first place. C

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