bill bodkin reviews the passion project from Tom Hanks …
Plot: A big-box store manager Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is downsized due to his lack of a college education. After being rejected by nearly every job he applies to, Crowne decides to go to college and get an education. At his local community college his life is turned upside down by free spirit Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a depressed, alcoholic public speaking professor named Mercy (Julia Roberts).
Certain films benefit from the cache their cast brings to the table.
Larry Crowne is that type of film.
Tom Hanks is very much akin to Jimmy Stewart. He has this universal appeal. He’s the actor everyone likes. He exudes a warm, friendly, everyman charm that makes you want to hang out with him. And most importantly, it’s the type of charm, the type of cache that makes you forgive any faults and weaknesses the films he appears in may have. And it doesn’t hurt that Hanks has an amazingly wide range and acting talent that people pray for.
And it’s Hanks — who also directed the film in his first effort behind the camera since 1996’s That Thing You Do! — who saves Larry Crowne from being a dreadful movie. The film is severely underdeveloped. For example, Crowne goes from happy-go-lucky big-box manager to depressed and unemployed to eager beaver college student within 15 minutes. We’re never given enough time to get to know Larry Crowne. And in truth, the character is extremely interesting, he’s a symbol for the modern American — ravaged by the effects of America’s economic downfall. We’re given hints of his personality, his pain, his suffering, what makes him tick, but sadly it’s never fully fleshed out.
This is where having Tom Hanks is a major plus. Hanks is able to fill in a lot of the blanks by his presence. His facial reactions, his movements, his tone and inflection speak volumes. And maybe it’s because of Hanks cache, the fact we all know how much range he has that we’re expecting more from the character. Maybe it was fleshed out to the degree, he, as the director, wanted, but as an audience member, I just felt I wanted more because this was Tom Hanks.
Outside of Hanks, the rest of the cast were okay. Julia Roberts as the oft-drunk professor Mercy was passable. She, like Hanks, brings a lot to the screen by her sheer presence but this time out, it felt like she wasn’t given a lot to work with here. Other cast members like Wilmer Valderama, Brian Cranston, Pam Grier, Rita Wilson, Rob Riggle, Cedric the Entertainer and George Takai are good, but not memorable.
The biggest problem in terms of characters in Larry Crowne is the character of Talia played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She plays one of the most annoying, free spirit characters in cinematic history. Without even knowing Larry, she invades his entire life, re-decorates his house, gives him a make-over, includes him into her circle of friends — all within the first day of meeting him. She’s written so annoying that they should tattooed the words “FREE SPIRIT” across her forehead. In fact there’s one scene where Julia Roberts’ comments “How can anyone stand someone like that?” And I audibly responded, “I have no idea.”
In the end, Larry Crowne is a movie that when Tom Hanks appears onscreen is an enjoyable, breezy dramedy that’s a bit rough around the edges. When the focus is off of him, the film derails into a messy, sad and highly underdeveloped mess. Luckily, the positives definitely mask the negatives and makes Larry Crowne a film that’s worth a rental, not a movie ticket.