Just got back from seeing Larry Crowne, and contrary to the bad reviews it’s getting, I enjoyed watching it. I’m glad I didn’t let them talk me away from it.
Starring Tom Hanks (who also directed and co-wrote the movie) and Julia Roberts, it’s the story of a laid-off mega-mart employee who goes back to college, particularly a speech communication class taught by the jaded Roberts. Here’s the trailer:
What I Liked About This Movie
Nice people work to make their lives better in small but significant ways, and things do slowly improve, especially with the aid of other nice people as friends. Tough decisions are made, but no one wallows in misery; everyone’s found some way to cope, although some (getting people to help out others, according to their talents) are obviously more productive than others (drinking).
It’s told with a really good cast, including George Takei, rocking that impressive voice, as an economics professor, and Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson as a bank employee.
Larry’s new best friend Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a bit of a “manic pixie dream girl”, except the idea that she and Larry would be romantically involved is made fun of. Instead, she’s called a “free spirit” and has the skill of bringing people together.
There are as many significant female roles than male, and they’re just as diverse. Larry’s neighbor Cedric the Entertainer, running a perpetual yard sale, helps him out, and then there’s Talia’s boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama, surprisingly) and a stoner classmate (Rami Malek, who was the adorable young Egyptian prince in Night at the Museum) for comic relief. But Cedric is usually accompanied by his wife (Taraji P. Henson), and Larry’s life changes because of Roberts and Talia. Roberts also chats with fellow teacher Pam Grier, and several other students are women, including Maria Canals-Barrera as Lala and Grace Gummer as a lacrosse player. (I kept wondering why she, in particular, looked familiar — it’s because she resembles her sister Mamie Gummer, who is often an opposing lawyer on The Good Wife, and both are daughters of Meryl Streep.)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Hanks in Larry Crowne
Everyone with a speaking part gets a small bit of significant business. I’m not surprised to see that this was made by an actor with a nice-guy reputation, because it seems like a film actors would be proud to be part of. (In contrast, note that although Hanks co-wrote the film with Nia Vardalos, everyone who didn’t like it blames her and her alone for the “bad writing”.)
Why Don’t Critics Like This Film?
I have some speculation as to why reviewers don’t seem to like this film as much as the audience does. First is the nature of the job — because critics see so many movies (TV shows, comics, whatever), they wind up looking for the Significant or Meaningful or Unusual or Exceptional. As a result, simple good entertainment sometimes doesn’t stand out for them. This movie isn’t trying anything new or exciting, other than to tell its story effectively.
Second are the expectations. My mother mentioned one review that said that such exceptional talent as Hanks and Roberts should be doing something more important. But what’s more important than giving people a hopeful escape for a couple of hours, one that has them leaving the theater feeling better about things, maybe encouraged to make their own positive changes? Others were complaining that plot points weren’t spelled out enough for them. If a character, for example, you’ve seen drink inappropriately picks up a drink and then puts it down, I don’t want an overblown speech about how they’ve seen their errors and changed their ways. Real people don’t act like that. Significant decisions can be small but powerful. Some seem to be criticizing this film for having realer characters than the gigantic movies they normally watch.
Third is very possibly generational, or otherwise demographically linked. This is a middle America movie, and younger viewers may not understand or appreciate the lack of high drama (or special effects). Crowne’s wins are small — a better wardrobe, saving money on gas, having a skill that allows one to get hired, even if it isn’t your dream job. Crowne does a good job at whatever he does. That virtue of honest hard work, even if your occupation isn’t creative or sexy, is a lost value. Hanks’ age (55) is visible, as is Roberts’. They aren’t young people, but grown-ups, and how often do we see that on screen?
Fourth: It’s “bland”, says Roger Ebert, who goes on to trot out words like tedium, banality, and no “reason for existing”. I’m sorry to hear he was bored, but I didn’t have a moment where my attention lagged. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, I was rooting for their small victories, and I appreciated the craft and skill I saw on the film.
Fifth, it directly addresses the state of our nation. Larry loses his job although he’s an outstanding employee. He’s underwater on his house. He’s a military veteran whose service isn’t appreciated. He’s not bitter, but it’s a tough row to how. The depressing recession is still a reality in his world, far from entertainment or political capitals where decision-makers aren’t affected.
Last, there’s nothing shocking that happens here. This is the opposite of the current vogue of hard-R comedy where bodily functions are exploited to disgusting and outrageous effect. It’s not a laugh-out-loud comedy, although there are plenty of funny moments and jokes, but the kind that relies on simple enjoyment. It’s adult, not because of language or body parts, but because of its concerns and maturity. It’s sweet, not frantic or rushed. I encourage you, if you’re interested, to go see it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect film — some of the characters are underwritten, existing more through performance than on the page — but it reminded me of a modern Frank Capra picture, about the essential good nature of the everyday guy.