Sunday 21 August 2022

Movie Review: Larry Crowne (2011)

A harmless romantic comedy, Larry Crowne is filled with good people overcoming familiar crises. The film bobbles sideways rather than ever moving forward.

In Los Angeles, middle aged and divorced Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is a dedicated and good natured employee at a big-box store. A 20-year Navy veteran (where he served as a cook), Larry was never promoted to the front office due his lack of a college degree, and now he is shocked to be laid off.

Determined to improve his education, Larry enrolls in language and economics courses at a local college, where he meets Mercy Tainot (Julia Roberts), the demotivated teacher of an english communications class. Larry also buys a scooter to save on gas money, finds a job as a diner cook, and befriends popular student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who introduces him to her scooter-riding friends. Mercy is stuck in a failing marriage and has lost her passion for teaching, but gradually she warms up to Larry.

Two of Hollywood's all-time most popular stars team-up for a pleasant-enough romance. Tom Hanks directs himself and co-wrote the script with Nia Vardalos, and they keep the plot free of villains, contrived complications, or silly misunderstandings. Larry Crowne's world is instead filled with nice people meeting navigating the ups and downs of life. The scooter represents the perfect summary of the narrative intentions: pragmatic and docile fun. The background context has Larry dealing with a life-at-a-crossroads moment, his lack of a college education and the breakdown of his marriage combining to drop him into an economic storm. Mercy is grappling with a smoldering wreck of a marriage, whatever potential her writer husband Dean (Bryan Cranston) once had now being consumed by an online porn habit. 

Both Hanks and Roberts can play these roles in their sleep, and Hanks as director allows himself to overplay the perpetually befuddled mannerisms of a mature student in a college full of kids. Gugu Mbatha-Raw provides a positive spark, as Talia takes the old guy under her wing and helps him scrape off some of the accumulated moss.

A classy supporting cast brightens the peripheries, and includes Cedric the Entertainer as Lamar, Larry's friend, neighbour, and brilliant yard sale entrepreneur. Taraji P. Henson is Lamar's wife, Pam Grier is another college teacher, and Rami Malek is an animated student in Mercy's class. The best comic moments are provided by George Takei as Dr. Ed Matsutani, a college professor somehow combining arrogance, compassion, and a maniacal laugh.

The peak moment of tension is limited to a drunken smooch between teacher and student, embarrassing them both before the fog lifts and the path is cleared for the requisite happy ending. Larry Crowne rides his scooter on a straight and narrow path, seeking only the amiable stops.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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