LARRY CROWNE – The Review
As I walked out of the multiplex, I passed by a small gathering of scooter enthusiasts laughing and discussing the film. This is when it dawned on me. Even LARRY CROWNE will inevitably have its audience. Whether its like-minded hobbyists or 60+ women who still think Tom Hanks is an irresistible boy toy celebrity, there will always be an audience for every movie, good or bad.
Tom Hanks takes the directors chair on a feature film for the second time, co-writing the script with Nia Vardalos, best known for writing MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. What may have drawn Hanks to this project I can only speculate, but LARRY CROWNE is far from being a respectable sophomore project to his far superior 1996 film THAT THING YOU DO!
Larry Crowne (Hanks) is a happy-go-lucky, if not slightly naïve, middle-aged man devoted to his job in retail sales. Larry is content with his simple life despite a failed marriage, that is, until life betrays him and takes a big crap on his head. Expecting to earn “Employee of the Month” yet again, Larry instead finds himself being fired simply because he never went to college. The fact that he served 20 years in the Navy right out of high school serves little in his favor, in the beginning.
As Larry copes with the recent u-turn in his life, he decides to take classes at a community college in an effort to ensure this never happens to him again. This is where he befriends a “gang” of young, scooter-riding modern bohemians and his Speech 217 teacher, Mercedes Tainot, played by Julia Roberts. This, unfortunately, is where an otherwise average popcorn rom-com takes a downhill turn toward disaster.
LARRY CROWNE actually starts out fresh and funny, deceptively drawing the audience into the subtle quirkiness of the story and its main character. I actually found myself rooting for Larry Crowne, a good guy getting screwed by the world, as so many good people out in the world today know so well. The film struggles to maintain this tone, but falls victim under the unbearable pressure of Julia Roberts’ embarrassingly absent performance.
I respect Tom Hanks. BIG will always be one of my fondest childhood films. I’ll forever be grateful for BAND OF BROTHERS, perhaps among the most important works of historically based war cinema. However, I get the impression that Hanks was drawn in by the message of the film and failed to see the massive flaws in the script, despite having helped write the film.
Hanks portrays Larry Crowne as a charming, yet slightly less stereotypical, Andy Griffith-type character. I couldn’t help but notice the influence of both Forrest Gump and Josh Baskin on Hanks’ performance, and I liked it. Its hard not to like Larry Crowne, the ideal Norman Rockwell-esque average Joe. Then comes Julia Roberts with an ice pick and a chip on her shoulder.
Roberts gives what I am calling, without hesitation, her worst performance. Ever. She’s unhappy, angry, apathetic, but the audience is made to assume all of this through her absence in spirit. Roberts could not have shown less emotion. Her character’s weakness for margaritas leads to one, long drunken scene that was so unconvincing that I think she’d have done better if Roberts herself were actually drunk during the shoot. Roberts’ most unfortunate crime against the audience is during one of Bryan Cranston’s few scenes, whereas Dean Tainot (Cranston, BREAKING BAD) and Mercedes have an argument at home over Dean’s inadequacies.
Roberts and Cranston could not have had any less chemistry on screen, but that’s not the fault of the man who has made Walter White an American anti-hero and household name. The two of them together in this scene is like putting a pit bull and a houseplant together in a ring and expecting them to fight. Fierce and focused, Cranston puts on a fine show, hackles raised, he does his best to carry the scene on his own back as Roberts sits there, unfeeling and uninteresting.
LARRY CROWNE does benefit from some extremely welcome supporting and cameo performances. Cedric the Entertainer (CADILLAC RECORDS) plays Larry’s garage sale-obsessed neighbor Lamar, while Taraji P. Henson (THE KARATE KID) plays his wife B’Ella. George Takei (STAR TREK) plays Larry’s Economics professor. Place tongue in cheek, he’s funny. I was also surprised by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Don’t laugh at her name, that’s mean!) who had a cool cuteness to her that I found irresistible, making me want to go back and watch her in UNDERCOVERS. (I’m talking about the TV show. Get your mind out of the gutter.)
Oh yeah, co-writer Nia Vardalos also supplies her voice in the film as Mercedes’ Map Genie device, giving her driving directions… but really, who cares?
Where there could have been a pleasant, upbeat and comical commentary on the current state of things in the American suburbs, LARRY CROWNE ends up being a poorly written farce, saturated with clichés and sappiness. I’m not going to flat-out tell you not to see this movie, it has its moments, but if I ever have to watch LARRY CROWNE again, I’ll fast-forward through Julia Roberts’ scenes.