Directed by: Tom Hanks
Premise: A middle aged man (Tom Hanks) loses his job at a big box retail store. Facing economic hardship, he enrolls at a local community college and begins to reinvent himself.
What Works: Larry Crowne is a film about redemption and new beginnings and it manages to be an agreeable story. The film is well paced, working very smoothly through its plot points, and it includes a great deal of humor which makes the clichés of the story more bearable. Tom Hanks is in standard Hanks mode as the likable everyman and the story takes advantage of Hanks’ status as an icon of American cinema. Larry Crowne addresses recent social and economic anxieties and by putting Hanks in the role of a man losing his job and his house, the film dramatizes the recession, attempting to make sense of it with a familiar face. Julia Roberts plays a disillusioned and borderline alcoholic college professor and it is one of Roberts’ better performances of late. She is sufficiently mean and messy, which contrasts with the good girl roles she usually plays. There is also a strong supporting performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a free spirited hippie who aids Hanks’ character in his transition. She brings a lot of mischievous energy that is a counterpoint to Roberts.
What Doesn’t: Larry Crowne is the latest picture in the trend of recession cinema, a trend that includes films like Up in the Air, The Girlfriend Experience, and The Company Men. However, Larry Crowne strikes a different note than these other films. It was written and directed by Tom Hanks and it is very much a Hanks film, which is to say that it follows Hanks’ clean cut, upstanding image. That isn’t necessarily bad but Larry Crowne suffers from Hanks’ characteristic optimism. Hanks’ character displays the Rocky-like American values of self-reliance and hard work. By doing that, the film intendeds to deliver a positive and uplifting message but it is so focused on that tone that it hurts the authenticity of the film’s theme. There is nothing in it at a narrative or thematic level that says or does anything innovative, unique, or insightful. Although cynicism is not part of Hanks’ style, the film’s aversion to any kind of pessimism is hard to stomach and hurts the credibility of the story. This is most apparent in the classroom scenes which play like scenarios out of a television sitcom. The growth of the students over the course of the semester is inexplicable given the apathy and ineffectiveness of their instructor and the change that Larry Crowne and those around him achieve at the end of the film is not backed by substantial actions or choices. And that is the essential problem of this film: it introduces a significant calamity in the title character’s life but his confrontation with that crisis has little rising action and virtually no climax.
Bottom Line: Larry Crowne is contrived and hokey and if it weren’t for the performances it might be a genuine disaster. But Larry Crowne has enough charm, thanks to Hanks and his costars, to it to make the film at least a satisfying story of personal reinvention. In short, it is a good date movie.
Episode: #347 (July 10, 2011)