The whole thing has the pleasant feel of a family vacation.
If you are looking for high powered, first rate comedy, don't go to Larry Crowne; but if you have a soft spot in your movie loving heart for Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, you might be very glad if you do. After all, we've watched them for twenty-five years as they explored comedy, drama, and television. They acted together in 2007 in Charlie Wilson's War. Remember Tom Hanks in Splash (1984) or Roberts in Mystic Pizza (1988)? From that point forward each has played an admirable variety of roles while becoming genuine Hollywood stars in the best sense of that overused word. Along the way they earned the respect of their industry and of audiences. An Oscar sits in each of their houses. And now here they are in middle age (how did that happen?), enjoying each other's on screen company. We like them.
Larry Crowne seems to be a project among friends. Tom Hanks co-wrote, (with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), produced, directed, and stars in the film. His wife, Rita Wilson plays a small role, son Chet Hanks plays the pizza delivery boy, and Julia Roberts is an old friend. The whole thing has the pleasant feel of a family vacation.
Hanks plays Larry Crowne, a former navy man and nice guy salesman for a big box chain of stores. Summoned to the head office, he prepares himself emotionally to receive yet another best employee award and is told instead that he is ineligible for any further promotions because he has not been to college. That sets up his encounter with Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) who teaches a public speaking class at a community college. Mercy is in a gloomy, quite nasty mood that is a natural outcropping of marriage to a terrible man (Bryan Cranston).
Early on Larry carries all his furnishings outdoors for auction; he's losing his house to the bank. Mercy tosses all her husband's belongings on to the lawn. He's history. A new beginning is at hand. Larry meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in class. This life loving young student will cheer Larry up with a makeover and introduce him to her motor scooting life, and he, in turn, will thaw his grumpy teacher. That's about it. Our laughter is mild but affectionate.
What will you take away from this movie? The image of the helmeted pair threading through suburban streets on a speeding Vespa? It looks like fun. The good old fashioned stop-this-car fight that puts the exclamation point at the end of Mercy's awful marriage? The bad guy gets his reward. And one more thing: decency. With the work he has done on screen and off for the things that matter to him, Tom Hanks has become something of an icon. We have seen a lot of him and we like what we see. And so Larry Crowne is a little like a home movie; we are watching a family we like at play.
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