Sunday, June 26, 2011

“Larry Crowne” – Movie Review



This weekend in  my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the romantic comedy “Larry Crowne”, starring Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts. 



When a middle-aged man suddenly finds himself unemployed and unemployable, he returns to school to improve his chances of landing a new job – but will a romantic entanglement with one of his teachers hurt his chances?



Larry Crowne (Hanks) is one of U-Mart’s best workers, winning Employee Of The Month eight times.  Despite this, the management decides to let him go because his lack of formal education prevents them from advancing within the company.  Having suffered through a divorce not long ago, Larry’s life is now in a total shambles as he is forced to go on unemployment during his job search while paying off the mortgage on a house that is now worth less than the amount he owes.  Finding a new job in this economy and at this stage of his life, however, proves to be a daunting task, to put it mildly. 


Convinced that his difficulties arise from the fact that he only has a high school diploma, Larry decides to take courses at a nearby junior college in the hope that this will help him get a new job.  One of the classes he takes along the way is in public speaking, which is taught by Mercedes (Roberts), an angry, bitter burn-out of a teacher whose career dissatisfaction and failing marriage are increasingly leading her to medicate herself with alcohol.  Sick and tired of being forced to teach unmotivated students who have only signed up for her course because it is a requirement for all students, she would be just as happy to cancel the class altogether. 


When Mercedes and her husband finally break-up, she coincidentally runs into Larry one night after she’s been out drinking.  Trying her best to seduce one of her best students, they both stop just short of crossing the line into what would have been an inappropriate tryst.  Subsequently, she is embarrassed by this and fearful that Larry might cause her to lose her job, should the school’s administration learn of the incident.  But can Larry somehow manage to succeed in his studies and still manage to have the relationship he wishes with Mercedes? 



It would be a facile response to be immediately dismissive of this movie on so many counts – a romantic comedy that’s a major studio release with two of Hollywood’s biggest stars – especially since I have a particular prejudice against Julia Roberts (never much cared for America’s Sweetheart and, at this stage, likely never will).  Yet, on some level – no matter how superficial it may be – “Larry Crowne” does seem to wish to be something it isn’t and couldn’t ever be:  simultaneously socially relevant and entertaining.  Sadly, the film fails miserably at both attempts. 

Make no mistake about it, despite Roberts’ presence, she is clearly taking a distant backseat to Hanks in this vehicle – not only is he the star, but also, the director, co-writer and co-producer.  In almost every sense imaginable, this truly is a Tom Hanks film; apparently, he’s stopped just short of serving the food at the Craft Services table.  Unfortunately for this talented multi-Academy Award winner, the movie does not succeed because it tries to be far too cute, too optimistic and too unrealistic.  Basically, there are way too many contrivances in “Larry Crowne” to allow you to buy into any realism. 

That said, however, the overwhelming majority of the class genuinely seemed to enjoy this movie.  There was one courageous woman who was willing to cast a dissenting vote, stating that she felt the movie wasn’t particularly funny or entertaining; I agree with her statements and would only add that this story trivializes the pain that most ordinary people have been feeling in this economy over the past several years.  Our instructor also added that he had some misgivings about the film, stating that it really asks a lot of the audience in the sense that it expects a significant suspension of disbelief.  I totally agree with this assessment and as a result, cannot recommend “Larry Crowne” unless you are immense Hanks/Roberts fans.  The question is, will you still be their fans after seeing this movie?


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