Larry Crowne (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three, Tinseltown
It's impossible not to like Larry Crowne, since it stars two of the most likeable movie stars of late-20th-century vintage. Tom Hanks is professionally adorable and effortlessly inspires absurd happiness as he gosh-darns his way through the movie. And Julia Roberts need merely flash that megawatt smile. Pretty soon, you're tempted to forget how aggressively meh a movie it is.
Yet aggressively meh is the best way to describe Larry Crowne. It's not a bad movie. It's not a particularly good one, either. It feels calculated for cute: mild, feel-good, none-too-challenging cute. It's probably nothing more than we should expect from Hanks, as Hollywood's nicest movie-star-turned-director.
There are some pointed barbs that Larry runs right up to and then shies away from. Larry (Hanks) is, you see, a happy-go-lucky floor manager at, ahem, UMart as the flick opens. Later we learn that he's a 20-year vet of the U.S. Navy, and so probably has a military pension, and this is why he can afford — in both the financial and spiritual senses — to be so chipper about wearing a logo-emblazoned polo shirt every day while he copes with the bargain-hunting public.
Anyway, just after Larry is set up as a happy guy who loves his shitty job, he gets laid off from that shitty job in a way that, in the hands of, say, Mike Judge, would turn into an all-out satire on corporate bullshit, even if only momentarily. It's something to do with discriminating against a dude and explaining it away as part of an antidiscrimination policy, but screenwriter Hanks and his coscripter Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) can't quite figure out a way to make it sting. The scene ends up feeling like a tease that never pays off.
But off goes Larry into a fleeting funk that is lifted when he enrolls in community college and meets-cute with fellow adorable Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She instantly adopts him, gives his life a makeover — clothes cooled up, hair funkily shorn, decor feng-shuied, social life jump-started — and is generally all-around awesome in all ways for him. Except in the romance department. That is being reserved till bored prof Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) — Larry is in one of her classes — can finally get around to recognizing how adorable Larry is.
And here's another way Larry misses the opportunities before it. Mercy is deeply miserable in her work and in her marriage to writer Dean (Bryan Cranston). One must sympathize with her existential despair, particularly as she sees Larry cavorting with Talia and makes the wrong — yet perfectly reasonable — assumption about them. Eventually, this causes her to moan, "What do men see in irritating free spirits?"
I want to commiserate with Mercy in this matter, but alas, the movie appears to have made it its mission to demonstrate just how amazingly cool and inspiring Talia is. When the inevitable romantic finale arrives, and Larry is telling Mercy that she, Mercy, changed his life, I'm out there in the audience going, "Um, no, Talia changed your life."
In the end, then, Larry Crowne doesn't even add up to the fluffy nonsense it wants to add up to. You should be irritated ... if you can get over the pleasure of watching Hanks and Roberts do that thing they do.
Larry Crowne | Tom Hanks | Julia Roberts | Nia Vardalos