Film review by: Witney Seibold
The best word to describe Tom Hanks‘ newest film “Larry Crown” is this: “affable.” Every scene is friendly and bright, and even the characters with darkness in their souls, or the ones experiencing bouts of undeserved suffering, seem eager, ready, even pre-programed for utter happiness that is easily within their grasp, and easy taken. I understand that it is a film about staying upbeat, and constantly fulfilling one’s need to get something done, even in the face of a bad economy, a bad marriage, or a bad life, but everyone so easily fills their voids, and all of the conflict is so subdued that “Larry Crowne” feels like a full-blown trifle.
Hanks plays the title character, an ex-Navy cook who has spent the last 20 years of his life living in post-marriage bliss as a middle manager in a big-box retail outlet. Despite his overwhelming competence and undying pleasantness, he is fired by his uncaring managers for not having ever completed college. There are a few brief moments of despondency and feelings of betrayal, but Larry will not be beaten down, choosing instead to apply to other jobs immediately, and, just to show up his old bosses, to apply to a local community college and get his diploma once and for all. For a few brief moments, I was deathly afraid that this pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps story was going to lead into something polemical, like “Atlas Shrugged.” Luckily, we skew hard away from that early on.
Larry is forced to sell many of his possessions to his wacky neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer), and swaps out his gas-guzzling SUV for a super-hip vintage Vespa, which, inexplicably, attracts the attention of the super-hip Talia (the very good British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is pretty, loves vintage clothes, and has the kind of infectiously upbeat attitude rarely seem outside of a television commercial. She is the head of a Vespa gang, and, inexplicably induct Larry into their fold. She also takes it upon herself to give him a hip haircut, rearrange his furniture for him, and clearly has some sort of crush on the man. The romance between these two is never explored, however, as we know that Julia Roberts is also in this film, and I guess it would offend too many people if Hanks and Roberts didn’t end up together, just on principle.
Julia Roberts plays a speech and literature professor named Mercedes Tainot who is bitter, haggard, and alcoholic. She hates her job, as her classes are unpopular. She’s exactly the kind of professor you hope you don’t get. Roberts is however, like the rest of this film, too gregarious and good-natured to pull off the necessary darkness required for this role. She’s too warm. Too sympathetic. I wish they has cast someone like Catherine Keener or Annette Bening in the role. Then Stellan Skarsgård could have played Larry. Then it would have been the kind of film, I think, it needed to be. Anyway, Mercedes and Larry end up having a class together, and they will, of course, eventually share an attraction, although the film is clumsy and awkward the way it shows their growing romance; that is to say, the romance doesn’t grown, but just sort of appears by default.
Mercedes is married to a layabout named Dean (Bryan Cranston) who spends his days surfing the ‘net and looking at porn. It’s with his porn consumption that “Larry Crowne” shows a staggering sex negativity that bothered me a little bit. It seemed to say that any fellow who looks at porn on the internet is a filthy, lazy slugabed who is only interested in big tits and masturbation. If “Larry Crowne” was a little more sophisticated, it would have established that Dean was, perhaps, a proper addict. Or that he was masturbating to the point of obsession. But no, he is a simple consumer of porn, and, in this universe, that is a cardinal vice. Thank goodness Mercedes had the option to go out with Larry Crowne, who doesn’t seem to have much of a libido, and is, therefore, a much more decent fellow. This is a small point, to be sure, but one that I had to mention.
Anyway, Larry’s journey takes him from hard times to easier times with relative ease. He does have to give up his old comforts (a house, a stable job), but he finds new ones o.k. and everyone is happy. And while “Larry Crowne” was indeed a joy to watch, bright, and occasionally funny (George Takei steals all his scenes), it felt too oversimplified, too light, too fun, to be taken too seriously.
Like I said. Affable.