Larry Crowne

Larry Crowne might not be a memorable comedy, but it is still watchable as a feel good film with an inspirational message.

When Tom Hanks directed his first feature film in 1996, it became a runaway success. That Thing You Do not only appealed to the young at heart of the 1990s as well as an older generation smitten by The Beatles, it was Hanks’ first film as writer and director. With Larry Crowne, Hanks makes a comeback while also producing and co-writing with Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of My Big fat Greek Wedding.

In this film, Hanks plays another nice-guy, a role he has perfected ever since he won his first Oscar for the likable aids patient in Philadelphia. As the titled character, Hanks plays an ex-navy cook now employed as a team-leader in a department store. Larry is the perfect employee and leads by example, so expects to be ‘crowned’ employee of the month for the ninth time when he is summoned by store management. Instead, he is in for a rude shock. Management has unanimously decided that Larry has no chance of career advancement due to his lack of college education. Divorced, middle-aged, out of a job and behind on his mortgage payments, Larry has no choice but to go back to school. However, attending community college proves to be a turning point in his life. Opting for economics and communications, Larry is initially a fish out of water. This is where he meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her gang of scooter-bikers led by Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama). Unlike motorcycle outlaws, Talia and her friends prove to be a revelation to Larry while opening his eyes to the simplicities of life. In walks Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), Larry’s speech and communications teacher who is as passionate about teaching as she is about her down-hill marriage. As they say, “better late than never”, Larry soon discovers the joys of college life ― a time of re-invention, discovery, youthfulness and even the slight case of college infatuation.

For a romantic-comedy, this film is not short of subtle comic moments including one or two scenes that will have you burst into laughter. You have to keep in mind that this is Tom Hanks in the lead and not Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller, so don’t expect to be rolling on the floor gasping for breath. While Hanks does what he does best, there is a slight trace of ‘Forrest Gumpness’ in his character. Then again, this is Hanks in his comfort zone and does not really risk it when putting Larry in the spotlight. The real chuckles and laughs come from a huge array of supporting roles. Some of these include Cedric the Entertainer as Larry’s neighbour, Rami Malek as a spaced-out classmate, George Takei as the economics professor and Wilmer Valderrama as Talia’s suspicious boyfriend with cameos from Pam Grier and Rita Wilson (Hanks’ real-life wife). Towards the end of the film, two women playing the influence on Larry’s life is Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Julia Roberts. While the former does well as a free-spirited and always optimistic co-ed, Roberts appears a bit underplayed. Perhaps this has to do with the way her Tainot is penned for the screen. However, as an actress, Roberts still has her old-school charm and that distinct sparkle in her eyes we have grown to love about her.

At the very worst and depending on your frame of mind while watching it, this film can lose its pacing at times, and ends up as a mediocre romantic-comedy, in addition to a few loose ends. On the other hand, it tops with a strong feel-good factor punctuated with an inspirational sense of achievement — when push comes to shove. Finally, Hanks and Vardalos have integrated subtle messages relating to the current financial crises and how middle-class folks can reduce its impact should they be willing to swallow a little bit of pride. As a whole, many people won’t find this film overly enjoyable, but there will be a lot like myself, who will find its light-hearted take on mid-life crises an entertaining watch.

Rating: ★★½☆☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.