Now available on DVD, “Larry Crowne” stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, and the producers (among them Hanks) clearly hoped that those two-big box-office names would be enough to draw folks into the air-conditioned theater this past July. Hanks also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, so he should get most of the praise and/or blame for the success of this fairly ordinary romantic comedy.
There’s some of both to hand out. The film’s first half develops slowly, with the laugh lines drawing barely a chuckle. To be fair, it’s not a very funny situation. Larry, a forty-something veteran of twenty years as a Navy cook, loses his job at a big-box store. Despite being a model worker and eight-time employee of the month, he’s passed over for promotion because he has no college degree. Hanks is probably the best-known “Mr. Nice Guy” actor since the passing of Jimmy Stewart: we have no trouble believing that he doesn’t deserve being downsized or that in his recent divorce he was the loser.
Determined to change his life, Larry goes to the local community college, where a dean tells him to take a certain speech course because it will change his life. Again, things don’t look promising, since the teacher, Mrs. Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), arrives for her eight a.m. class hung over and all too eager to tell the students that the class didn’t make its quota. When the tardy Larry’s arrival gives her enough for the minimum enrollment, he is not, let’s say, off on the right foot.
From there, it’s only a matter of time until she sees him for the good guy he is and falls in love with him, the teacher/student relationship notwithstanding. Along the way, writer/director Hanks picks up the pace and the humor. Some of the difference is the increased role of other actors, in particular those playing Larry’s much younger classmates. As the effervescent Talia, Gugu Mbatha-Raw helps Larry turn things around, rearranging his wardrobe, his furniture, and even getting him a cool haircut.
Talia also recruits Larry for the Street Patrol, a “scooter gang” to which she and her boyfriend, Dell (Wilmer Valderrama) belong, getting Larry out of his lonely existence and into a group of unlikely friends. He finances his education in part by returning to cooking at a local restaurant, after selling most of his earthly goods himself or through his neighbor (played by Cedric the Entertainer), who runs a permanent yard sale. I’d also cite George Takei (best–known as Mr. Sulu in the Star Trek series) for a small role as an economics professor who helps boost Larry’s confidence even as he repeatedly takes away his cell phone.
“Larry Crowne” won’t win Hanks any awards, but he scarcely needs any more in his trophy case. Larry is too much of a doofus to be credible, but then we usually don’t ask for realism in our romcoms. It did OK at the box office, despite not being a typical “summer movie.” (It’s rated “PG-13” but is pretty harmless.) If you want a gentle diversion—and an escape from the thunderous onslaught of monsters, heroes, and 3-D effects—you could do worse.