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Larry Crowne (2011)
Larry Crowne is a 2011 American romantic comedy film starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. The film was directed by Hanks, who co-wrote its screenplay with Nia Vardalos. Larry Crowne was released on July 1, 2011 in the United States and Canada. Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a middle-aged Navy veteran, is fired from his job at a big-box store, despite his seniority and satisfactory work, because the company has decided that his lack of a college education impedes any chance of advancement. Larry, who is divorced and lives alone, cannot find a job and could lose his house. Larry's neighbor, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), advises him to enroll in the local community college and get an education in order to get better opportunities in the future. As he looks over a course catalog, Larry meets the college dean, Dave Busik (Holmes Osborne), who encourages him to take Economics and Speech. While pumping gas in his SUV, he sees a couple on scooters fueling up and how much cheaper it is to do so. Larry buys a scooter from Lamar's never-ending yard sale. On the first day of school, Larry meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free spirit who also drives a scooter. They form a friendship right away.
It's an excellent premise with unlimited potential. Troubles at his full-time job force a disconnected protagonist to enroll in his local community college where he interacts with eccentric personalities straight out of Screenwriting 101, falls for the resident hottie, and learns more than he expected about his place in this cruel world of ours.
And if we were referring to Joel McHale and the lovable oddballs of NBC's cult sitcom "Community," I'd say it meets and, more often than not, exceeds its potential on a weekly basis. The same just can't be said about the similarly structured yet far less enjoyable Larry Crowne.
Soaked in affable, artificial sunlight and dripping with the "can-do" attitude of its director and leading man Tom Hanks, Larry Crowne squeezes all relevance out of a contemporary story of a man downsized at his company who only lands on his feet after realizing that the playing field must change.
Hanks is Larry, a former Navy cook and all-around good guy who is unceremoniously dumped from his retail job (which he enjoyed more than most would) because of an insufficient educational background. Larry never went to college, you see, so at the suggestion of his yard-sale-running neighbors (blustery Cedric the Entertainer and a flighty Taraji P. Henson), he enrolls at nearby East Valley Community College. His course load includes an intro to economics presided over by Mr. Sulu (George Takei) and Speech 217, taught by the jaded, soon-to-be-divorced Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts, turning her Mona Lisa Smile upside down).
Crowne may exist as a vehicle for A-listers, but the script, credited to Hanks and the atrocious Nia Vardalos, gives the film no fuel on which to run. Incredulous plot developments drop in Hanks's path from the get go, whether it's his unlikely, flirtatious friendship with sexy coed Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) or the moped gang she invites him to join. Roberts, meanwhile, suffocates under an obvious broken-marriage subplot that takes an eternity to develop, even with the great Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame playing her deadbeat mate, a porn-loving, part-time blogger who spends most of his screen time telling us he prefers chesty women.
The bulk of Crowne's issues are traced back to its pat and condescending script. Forced to rely on the same stereotypical caricatures and ham-fisted, coincidental plotting that doomed Vardalos's own pictures (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, My Life in Ruins), Crowne comes off as sweet, airy, superficial, and forgettable. Hanks exudes charm, ensuring that Larry remains consistently pleasant, but the movie has very little to say and no idea how to say it intelligently. Even Hanks's debut picture, the spectacularly infectious gem That Thing You Do, spoke more about the human condition than Crowne ... and that film was a slick and shiny ode to the short shelf-life of a pop music act!
A bit more about That Thing, which remains one of my all-time favorites even as I scratch my head over the uneven and uneventful Crowne. That 1996 comedy was beyond euphoric and so in tune with its storytelling that I couldn't wait for Hanks to get back behind the camera. He took 15 years between directing gigs, and now I wonder how many of those years looked like the end of That Thing, where the Wonders couldn't get on the same page and replicate their white-hot success. There's a strange irony bridging Hanks's spectacular debut to this flat follow up. Crowne suggests that when it comes to directing, he will be a one-hit wonder, having more in common with that fictional pop band than we might have assumed.