Larry Crowne is a drab, overzealous middle-manager with a hidden inner gentleman. Does it make sense that this guy ends up with Julia Roberts? Not really. But then, this is Tom Hanks’s movie. He produces, directs, and stars as the title character, and he can therefore romance Julia Roberts in his movie if he wants to.
Hanks’s movie company, Playtone, would seem to be dedicated to making movies about a kind of suburban, Beach-Boys-y soundtrack America, where 1950s-era Boy Scout values still inform everything. Not that that’s inherently a bad thing; it’s just that the word “cloying” comes to mind.
That said, ”Larry Crowne” is not a bad movie. It’s pretty funny, if overly cutesy, full of decent chuckles and a smattering of belly laughs.
Because Larry has no education, he gets fired, looks for jobs, and goes to junior college, but not before noting that his SUV chugalugs $75 worth of gas, while the guy with the scooter at the next gas pump fills up for $3.75. Environmental do-gooder message! Check. So he buys a scooter from his philosophical next-door neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer), at his ongoing Yemen bazaar-styled garage sale.
He signs up at the local junior college for Ms. Tainot’s (Julia Roberts) communication class of “informal remarks.” Tainot’s husband, played by Bryan Cranston, is an author supposedly working on his new novel, but in actuality is mostly distracted by smutty websites.
Cranston, hilarious as the dad of TV’s Malcolm in the Middle, and scary in AMC-TV’s Breaking Bad, is underused here. This is a shame, as Cranston is normally a comedic wizard.
In what looks like a rip-off of Zooey Deschanel’s character, replete with scooter, cut and pasted out of Jim Carrey’s movie “Yes Man,” newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays “Talia,” a gorgeous, free-spirited classmate who makes Larry Crowne her personal makeover project and challenges him to break out of his comfort zones. A woman that good-looking, who unashamedly flirts that much, and spends that much time—on a guy as hokey as Larry Crowne? As mentioned—it’s Tom Hanks’s movie.
Likewise not very believable is Talia’s “Street Patrol” scooter gang that Larry joins. They ride around and do good deeds all over the place, between classes. “We ride for justice and beauty.” Really?
These are all good things, of course. It’s as if Hanks would like to hark back unto more innocent, guileless times, much like his first movie under the Playtone label, “That Thing You Do.” It’s good to set examples of virtuous behavior, but unless these values are couched in more believable contexts, they are apt to slide off today’s audiences like water off the proverbial duck’s back.
It would be nice to see, in Hanks’s next attempt, something with a lot less schmaltz and more possibilities for moviegoers to say, “Yeah, I could be that guy. Maybe that would work for me too.” But when faced with, “Okay, if at 50-something, I go back to junior college and attempt to get educated, I’ll get to date Julia Roberts,” it tends to engender eye rolling and coughing-into-the-fist of the phrase “yeah, right.”
It’s well meant, though. No amount of today’s gore/schlock-fests equals one of these Playtone productions for attempting to rectify our downtrodden modern societal values.