Awful Movie Review: “Larry Crowne”
Produced by: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks
Written by: Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Bryan Cranston, Pam Grier, George Takei
Music by: James Newton Howard
There was nothing drawing me into this movie. Any affection I may have had towards the film’s star, Tom Hanks, was weighed unfavorably against the fact that the film was co-written by his My Big Fat Greek Wedding muse Nia Vardalos. But I dove in headfirst and nearly blind to Larry Crowne, thanks in large part to the fact that a good friend of mine recommended the film as being “not so bad.” By the time I reached the halfway point, however, I was already checking out and asking her, “Why did you recommend this?” Her answer? She was jet-lagged, awake for 24-hours, and on Vicodin. And suddenly it all came into focus, ’cause no sober, well-rested person would ever recommend Larry Crowne for entertainment purposes.
Larry Crowne is about a man named Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks, who has what has to be the easiest midlife crisis ever. There are times when the film asks us to believe that he’s suffering, and for a time, you will feel sorry for him. Larry is a former Navy cook who jumped from high school to military life and finds himself at the end of his rope as he’s fired from his senior clerk position at a Target-like superstore. The reason why, the uber-jerk executives explain, is that he has no college education and, therefore, has no room to grow within the company. With no job experience to fall back on, no wife and kids to comfort him when he comes home, and a penny-pinching neighbor who’s unwilling to even lend a helping hand without asking for an unreasonable price, Larry decides that he only has one choice: get himself a college education and never be downsized again.
Yeah, there’s no way that plan could fail. The rest of the film that follows is less like an inspirational story of overcoming the odds and is really more like a grating, aggravating self-help class that takes forever to get to its inevitable, flaccid ending. And the romantic subplot is as impersonal and passionless as a relationship can be in a film like this.
Hanks’ costar is Julia Roberts, this decade’s less charming Meg Ryan circa 1998. The best I can say about her is that she at least lends the film a bit of much needed cynicism for a topic like unemployment and such. I’m possibly being a bit to harsh on Julia, to be honest, as there are times when her performance is much too good for this film. She plays Mercedes Tainot, a woman who is so cynical about her life and career as a community college teacher that she recites the same two speeches at the beginning of each of her classes, depending on the situation. Too few kids, and she explains with relief that the class has been cancelled. Just enough , and she begins explaining that her name is not pronounced “TAY-noh,” and not like several other familiar words that, nonetheless, do not actually sound like her name — “tie knot” and “Tae Bo” for example. Before she joyfully cancels her public speaking class, of course, in walks Larry Crowne, the last student the class needed to carry on and, necessarily, the last man that Mercedes will ever fall in love with.
Most men, it is said, go through their midlife crisis and buy a motorcycle. Larry Crowne likes to think of it as a film for the recession, and appropriately downsizes the motorcycle into a scooter. If you’ve seen the film’s poster, with Hanks and Roberts on a scooter together, you know the scooter is an integral part of the relationship. What isn’t suggested by the poster is the obnoxious secondary characters introduced as a result of the little motorbike’s inclusion in the story, which is itself just as twee. First is Lamar and his wife B’Ella (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson), the proverbial black neighbors and best friends who offer Larry some sage advice (but not money because, again, the man is cheap, to his wife’s chagrin). Next up is Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), an implausibly free-spirited young girl who introduces Larry to her scooter enthusiast group, which includes her implausibly jealous boyfriend Dell (Wilmer Valderrama). They introduce Larry to such hip fads that all the cool kids are into these days — stuff like “texting,” “feng shui,” polo shirts, and other neato new things that middle-aged people presumably have heard of, have no clue about, but nevertheless find references to said things amusing.
(On that note, I must also note that the soundtrack is supplied by James Newton Howard, who decided to skew into adult contemporary territory with the film’s soundtrack, with a lightly distorted guitar chiming in with the orchestra to create that annoyingly sweet, easy listening sound that tells you everything’s going to be alright and happy. Also on tap are songs from Smokey Robinson, Billy Squier, and Tom Petty, who, while I have no real qualms to speak of regarding them as musicians, nonetheless shows you the type of pandering that this movie stoops to in order to get the attention of its target audience.)
Larry Crowne is only Tom Hanks’ second film as director, and compared to his first film, the amazingly entertaining and charming That Thing You Do!, Larry Crowne is one hell of a sophomore slump. As much as I’d like to blame it on Nia Vardalos and her Cathy comic-inspired script, unfortunately, Hanks is right there in the credits as a co-writer, so he has to share in this blame. Past the initial emotional distress of the beginning of the film, there’s not a hurdle these characters come to that isn’t easily overcome through some sort of easy solution or tired trope. Mercedes, for example, is an alcoholic and is cynical about her job, but it’s only because she has a chauvinist, lazy husband (Bryan Cranston) who belittles her own career and while spending his days blogging (another one of those silly modern words) and surfing the web for porn (because he’s “just a guy, being a guy, doing . The solution? She tosses all his stuff out of the house and locks him out, much to his embarrassment.
Need another example? Just as she begins to take a liking to the gentlemanly Larry, she also misconstrues the close relationship that has formed between Larry and Talia, believing it to be much more intimate than it actually is. Of course, instead of going and confronting him about it, in classic Three’s Company form, she goes with her hunch and turns on Larry in the most passive aggressive manner she can before happenstance causes her to realize her mistake. Of course there’s very little consequence to this, and she ultimately is won over by Larry’s charm and gives him an A+ in her class. (By the way, her class must be a cakewalk, because, aside from her caustic personality, she mostly lets the students run free and easy with their presentations. Larry’s speech at the end is not only cloying, it’s also insubstantial. That he got a standing ovation from the class is another one of this film’s many absurdities.)
One thing I don’t like doing when I watch a film that I intend to review is take notes. I like to take in the film as a whole, generally, and let a gut reaction be my guide. It doesn’t sound too professional, I guess, but I find that it usually results in a more enjoyable experience for me, as a viewer, and a more honest, overall impression of a film. Note taking tends to bring out so many faults in a film that I think it gets in the way of actually enjoying the film, and I believe that any obvious or glaring faults in a film will become apparent throughout the film or will be with a bit of hindsight, contemplation, and research. Larry Crowne, however, had so many issues, I began to jot down notes on my phone between texts to my friend regarding her recommendation to me. I even jotted down a list of those “funny” modern buzzwords Vardalos and Hanks threw into their script (“tai chi,” “GPS,” “Project Runway,” “Twitter,” “Facebook,” “internet” and its affect on young people’s attention spans…). It’s also worth noting that the film thinks it’s still funny to mock nerds point out the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, despite George Takei and his infamous laugh costarring as Larry’s economics professor.
I also noted its usage of the Magic Negro trope. Larry has three of dark-skinned counselors in his neighbors and Talia, and Mercedes has her colleague across the hall from her office, played by Pam Grier, who is widely regarded as a legend among black actresses and yet is reduced to a pointless sidekick role here. Each of these characters has some sage advice to offer the stars, but only Talia gets some semblance of development in her own life, and even that is in the decision to dropping out on a whim and starting a thrift store with her unmarried boyfriend, so look into that as far as you will. Also, remember, that the Asian costar is the numbers teacher. I’m not one to normally pull the race card, but seriously, what is up with all that?
I almost feel as though I’m giving this film too much flack for its flaws, which ultimately is guilt stemming from my decision to take down notes on all its faults, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this was a film that is actually managed to be worse than its premise would have suggested. Larry Crowne is ultimately not only a pointless movie, but an insubstantial one. It really says nothing realistic about life, and I highly doubt anyone is going to come out of it feeling inspired despite the very real problems that may be in their life. Most aggravating of all, however, is how wasteful it is. It’s a waste of its actors’ talents and a waste of everybody’s time, cast, crew, and audience alike. Heck, I’m even a little upset that I put it in my movie queue to begin with! Hopefully this review will deter you in a way that my once trusted friend did not.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5
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