4 July 2011


As pet projects go, Larry Crowne isn't a bad film. As a pet project for Tom Hanks, whose first feature was That Thing You Do!, it's a little more disappointing. Hanks' second film is clearly a very personal project, as it's a film that he co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in. It's also a film that is almost completely without conflict.

Larry is a hardworking but anonymous megamart worker for whom the highlight of each month is being named Employee of the Month. At the end of this particular month, he's fired as a result of both corporate downsizing and his lack of a college education. With a messy divorce putting a drain on his resources, Larry resolves to head back to college, refusing to be cowed by his circumstances and maintaining a bright outlook regardless.

It's hard to take against Tom Hanks, because even in the wake of two ball-achingly solemn turns as Dan Brown's Robert Langdon, he's still never given us any reason to feel bored with him. He's a consistently good actor, twice an Oscar winner, and he voices Woody the cowboy. Larry Crowne's rubbishy marketing still appealed to me because returning to comedy is exactly what I'd like to see Hanks do at this stage of his career. The thing is, Hollywood's seemingly nicest actor has made an exceedingly nice film, in which not an awful lot happens.

Larry's divorce, from a wife who never appears, has left him with over 300 grand in debt, and at first, it seems like the film is about this one man against the recession. Not that his debt ever seems to bother him much in the end. His car costs money to run, but handily, he sees some college students spending a fraction of his refuelling costs on filling up their scooters, and invests in a scooter. Conflict potentially rears its head, but is resolved without event.

The film goes on in this fashion. Larry is a man in his 50s, going back to college with kids young enough to be his children, but handily, he falls right in with a crowd who think he's very cool indeed. Of these kids, a mild-mannered and entirely non-threatening scooter gang, they're a hipsterish nightmare. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays their leader, the free-spirited Talia, who dubs Larry "Lance Corona" and has a liking for the vintage and the old-fashioned that's a little too optimistic on Hanks' part.

The lack of conflict makes the film overbearingly nice, and also makes an average running-time feel considerably longer than most films of its ilk. The only real conflict in the film stems from Julia Roberts' speech professor, Mercedes Tainot, a bitter alcoholic in an unhappy relationship with her feckless blogger of a husband, played by Bryan Cranston. Cranston is one of my favourite actors, having grown up while watching him as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle- more recently, the man has proven himself as versatile and as watchable as ever in markedly different roles.

He's underutilised here, but also indispensable, if only because there's no more friction in this entire film. The population of retrospective youngsters in the film comes only because the film is so old-fashioned anyway. You can look for parallels in how Hanks is like the James Stewart of his generation; Roberts, the Doris Day of hers; even Cranston as a Jack Lemmon. But the year is 2011, and the discomfort with which this all comes together is closer to one of Hanks' lesser comedies from the 1980s.

It's difficult to dislike Larry Crowne, even if it only ever really comes to life when George Takei is on-screen, in top scene-stealing form as a bizarre professor of economics. The rest of the film feels nice, but rather lifeless, because it only coasts along on the likeability of Tom Hanks. Contrary to what overly defensive fanboys are saying about last week's other big release, this is a leave-your-brain-at-the-door film. If it catches you in the right mood, it's plenty endearing. On the whole, however, it's very slight indeed.

Larry Crowne is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Larry Crowne, why not share your comments below? Trust me, cinema fans- in a week where you have to choose between Tom Hanks looking for a job and Shia LaBeouf looking for a job, Hanks is your best bet by far.

 I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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