Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is a hardworking, friendly, well-liked employee of the chain department store U-Mart. A nine-time employee of the month winner, Larry takes pride and joy in his work, that is until his bosses decide to downsize. Because of Larry’s lack of higher education, he becomes the first picked to get the can. Now Larry has to prove to the man that he’s capable of being management material but can only do so by attending school. Being the new kid on campus has its ups and downs for a 50-something year-old man and Larry has to experience it all for the first time in this wacky feel good summer movie, Larry Crowne… and that’s Crown with an “e.”
It’s like “Welcome Back Kotter” without the likable characters, humor, and heart.
Basically Julia Roberts singlehandedly saves Larry Crowne from being less than mediocre. Playing the tough as nails cynical alcoholic Mercedes Tainot, Roberts’ character possesses more heart than anyone else in the film. A trained drama theater, Mercedes is assigned to teach a speech class in which Larry is a student. However, Mercedes simultaneously finds herself in the midst of mid-career life crisis as she begins to wonder if her years of teaching have made an impact on anyone. Her uncertainty and stagnant marriage to the lazy, porn addicted writer Dean (Bryan Cranston) has made her cynical about her life and each day of teaching seems to be a burden with her only joy being a daily alcoholic drink and her morning coffee. Roberts convincingly owns the short-tempered apathetic teacher even when the script causes an unrealistic and idiotic change in her character.
This is basically her look throughout the entire film.
Although Roberts does a great portrayal of her character that doesn’t mean that Mercedes or any other character in the film is flawless. In fact, the characters of Larry Crowne are some of the most annoying people I’ve seen on screen since Burn After Reading. Hanks’ writing allows for characters to be more likable than the Coen Brother’s self-deprived psychos, but the characters in Larry Crowne are much less interesting. Crowne is a good man with great work ethic, elements that can only be admired by viewers; however he’s so passive and easily molded by his new friend and classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) that it’s almost pathetic. Upon Larry’s first day of college he meets Talia, an “irritating free spirit” as perfectly described by Mercedes.
Designating herself as Larry’s new best friend, Talia takes him under her wing exposing him to Feng Shui, dressing in clothes that aren’t Polo shirts, and riding around on Vespa scooters. Talia’s character is a bit of an enigma. It’s never explained what her status in school is or why she feels such a strong connection to Larry, even going as far as to text him nearly every day in class to ask him to ride with her and gang of scooter enthusiasts, regardless of the fact that they sit next to each other in class.
They see me rolling, they hatin.’
Although Larry Crowne is a comedy, the overall humor just isn’t there. It’s repetitive of other films of its genre and most of the jokes are corny with poor delivery. In one scene Talia convinces Larry, whom she calls Lance, to try on some new clothes from her wardrobe— why does she have clothes that would fit a middle aged man? I have no earthly idea. She convinces him to take off all of his clothes, to which her protective and self-conscious boyfriend, Dell (Wilmer Valderrama) shows up right when he does and stares at the underwear clad Larry until he is instructed to put on clothes. Larry bends over and attempts to pull up his pants with the camera steadying on a tight close up on his bottom in tighty whiteys. The scene was meant to makes audiences laugh. Hardy har.
Larry Crowne loses its focus throughout and frankly becomes pretty boring. While the story is supposed to focus on the struggles of Larry attending college for the first time, it sort of forgets that and instead spends much of the film focusing on the life of Mercedes and her awkward yet failing marriage. Larry goes through no conflict outside of his firing and attempts at job hunting within the first 15 minutes of the film. He never struggles through any of his classes nor does he have a moment of uncertainty while attending school. He instead breezes through his first semester of college and your assumption of how a movie like this will end is more than likely correct.
I didn’t really understand the point of Larry Crowne. Maybe it was writers Nia Vardalos and Hanks’ attempt to remind audiences of the importance of college or maybe the entire movie was just an excuse to show his love for Star Trek, (George Takei plays the strange robotic Economics teacher Dr. Matsutani, a student gives a speech about the importance of Star Trek, and Mercedes and Dean leave a restaurant named “The O’Shatner.”) but either way Larry Crowne is cheesy in every sense of the word. Still, there are much worse films out there that require a lot more booze.
Who knew Tom Hanks was such a Trekkie and George Takei could look so creepy?
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a sip: for every scooter you see on screen.
Take a sip: every time Mercedes drinks.
Take a shot: for every Star Trek reference you notice.
Take a sip: every time you look at Wilmer Valderrama’s character and think “Cash money!”