(USA, 99 min.)
Dir: Tom Hanks; Writ: Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, George Takei, Bryan Cranston, Pam Grier.
Need some knowledge? Get yourself to college! That’s the pat version of the lesson learned by title character Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) in this persistently likeable comedy. When the heartless suits at U-Mart give hard-working Larry the sack because he lacks higher education, Larry heads off to community college to further his career before his outstanding debt with the bank dips even farther into the red. At school, Larry tries to improve his social skills by enrolling in a class called “The Art of Informal Conversation.” Armed with a positive outlook, a fuel-efficient scooter bike, and a new friend Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Larry has already bettered himself by the first day of school. Learning can be fun, it seems.
Larry’s teacher, Mrs. Tainot (Julia Roberts) doesn’t quite share his enthusiasm. Stuck offering menial classes with sparse enrolments, Mercedes feels that her Master’s Degree in Shakespeare doth be going to waste. She’s also married to a stay at home loser (Bryan Cranston), who spends his days looking at internet porn because he “likes chicks with big knockers.” Maybe Mercedes should take a lesson from Miss Halsey and start a “new tit fund.” Like Cameron D’s bad teacher, Mrs. Tainot fuels herself with booze and spends her classes hiding behind dark shades and nursing a hangover. As her husband says, Mercedes just needs to chilloot.
This match of Hanks and Roberts doesn’t quite compare with their previous collaboration, Charlie Wilson’s War, but much like Cameron Diaz does in Bad Teacher, the actors bring out the strongest bits of Larry Crowne. Offering an earnest performance that puts Larry as a relatable and accessible Average Joe, Tom Hanks once again proves his stock as the atypical Hollywood everyman. Likewise, Julia Roberts’s glowing charm and witty timing show that she is still the queen of romantic comedy. While Larry Crowne always plays it safe, it does so at a higher level by capitalizing on the good nature of the two most likable actors in the business.
In some ways, Larry Crowne is much like Bad Teacher for the PG-13 crowd. Some of the best laughs come from the brash antics of teachers and students. Where Bad Teacher offers smarmy satire, Larry Crowne makes some honest observations on current classroom behaviour. It makes the rare feat of presenting dozens of cellphone jokes without seeming too contrived. Especially during classes with Dr. Matsutani, played by a scene-stealing George Takei, does Larry Crowne succeed with its schoolhouse riff. While the lack of edge occasionally pits the film as the goody-two-shoes at the multiplex, it also avoids many of the juvenile pranks that prevent Bad Teacher from being top of the class.
While there isn’t much to rave about in Larry Crowne, there’s nothing to lament either. Sure, plenty of the supporting players are either too eager or just over-caffeinated – Talia is one of those characters who are best accompanied with a mute button – but their sincere keenness is also one of the many reasons that it’s simply impossible not to like Larry Crowne. As star, director, co-writer, and producer, Tom Hanks assembles a well-done production with a refreshing and accessible story of making a fresh start in an America where the average guy can’t seem to catch a break. Despite sugar-coating things a little to reach its universal scope, Larry Crowne nevertheless presents an honest and amusing story of the little things we all have to offer. Larry Crowne, therefore, is light-hearted family-friendly fun – you can’t take Grandma to Bad Teacher! This is one upbeat fable that freshman and seniors alike will appreciate. While college offers plenty of lessons, there’s a lot to learn from Larry Crowne as well.
Larry Crowne is now playing in wide release.