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Friday, July 1, 2011
Learn, Forrest, Learn: Mr. Gump Goes To College
Tom Hanks as the title character in the film "Larry Crowne",
which he also directed, produced and co-wrote.
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
July 1, 2011
Tom Hanks returns to the
feature film director's chair after 15 years away from it with "Larry Crowne", a tidy, predictable
and enjoyable romantic
comedy with a made-for-television feel and a warm, well-intended heart. The film opened nationwide today.
Mr. Hanks plays the title character, a recently-divorced man laid off
from his long-time job "because he didn't go to college." Hmmm.
that as it may, Larry is hurting from the divorce and jobless slap-down, and Mr. Hanks' pallid
expressions convey the pain. We've seen the look before. The "excuse me, am I being fired?" moment
the actor's AIDS-stricken character in "Philadelphia" returns early on
in "Crowne", a film that ephemerally taps into the downsizing
of self-worth during unemployment.
During his time of despair Larry gets emotional support and ribbing from his
ever-negotiating neighbor Lamar (Cedric The Entertainer) and wife (Taraji P.
Henson), whose back story is an instant quick-fix contrast to the economic
hardship Larry has.
Larry looks for work but with the little money he has left decides to go to college
(isn't college expensive these days?)
in the hopes of finding work. Larry, a
middle-aged man looking to rejuvenate his sedate life, takes a speech
class presided over by jaded, cynical teacher Mercedes Tainot (Julia
Roberts), who teaches at East Valley College and breaks bigger rules than
Cameron Diaz's Elizabeth did in last week's release
Bitter, Mercedes is boxed in by a marriage of misery and man-a-thon declarations
by her boar-like, superficial husband (Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad".)
Why did she marry him in the first place?, you may wonder. Mercedes' anger
at her slumming, porn-obsessed spouse carries over into her classroom. She
seethes like a hissing python poised to attack. Ms. Roberts pulls off the
barely-concealed rage she exploded in Mike Nichols' 2004 drama "Closer", in what
is for much of Mr. Hanks's film a one-note performance.
"Larry Crowne" swiftly dispenses with the weight of the recession, a
that practically bursts when Ms. Roberts first walks into her classroom.
The interplay between Mr. Hanks and Ms. Roberts (reunited from the 2007 film
Wilson's War") is at first tentative, and Ms. Roberts' jagged
Mercedes and her class of nonplussed students keep each other off-balance.
"Larry Crowne" keeps its goodwill intact, not wanting the current realities of
the day to break the heart of its fairy-tale dreams and aspirations.
Mr. Hanks directs "Larry Crowne" using a lot of syrupy close-ups, with the
camera looking lovingly at the abundantly talented actors who mug in front of
it. Yet I was gleefully and unabashedly sucked in to this sappy,
saccharine love-fest. I couldn't help falling in love with the sugary
goodwill "Larry Crowne" bandied about like cotton candy. The film screams
"care" like Mercedes does in a most cynical way, but I still bought in.
Mr. Hanks aims to please, and the film is pleased to aim as high as it can, even
if its scenarios are too pretty and convenient for its own good.
You know the ending
of "Larry Crowne" long before it gets there.
We are told often, however, that it is the journey, not the destination, that matters in
life, and if that counts for anything at all in this clean, neatly-directed yet
sometimes scattershot film,
then "Larry Crowne" is nothing if not a consistently funny and entertaining comedy.
Full of sweetness and cookie-cutter joy, "Larry Crowne" has the feel of a 1970s
TV sitcom romance or a kind of intermittent "All In The Family" shot on vacation
with stars who are replacements for the more realistic originals -- but these
ingredients are why "Larry Crowne" plays well on the big screen. It has an
Eagles-like peaceful, easy feeling and is unapologetic about its Southern-like
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia in Tom Hanks' romantic comedy
The film executes its task: a likeable guy is divorced and laid off, finds his
bearings in an economically-depressed America, and finds love. If you're
looking for a 2011 summer movie that does this in the simplest and most
confounding way possible, then "Larry Crowne" is your movie, and Mr. Hanks is
your man. Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") and Mr. Hanks co-wrote
the screenplay, which sometimes jumps hurdles higher and faster than the great
Edwin Moses once did.
Undeniably Mr. Hanks is today's Jimmy Stewart: a nice, likable everyman, a
regular Joe who gets along with everybody. Even if he happens to ruffle
feathers, he does so in a friendly way, just like the movie itself does.
This quality is used to the actor's advantage in "Larry Crowne", and when Mr.
Hanks puts on the director's hat he uses polite, appealing imagery. And
when we first see Ms. Roberts, we don't see her behind (ala Ms. Huntington-Whiteley
in the contemptible
"Transformers 3"), we see a shot of her shoes
and feet, a moment which will be repeated and commented on, with the director's
in-joke dialogue -- in a verbal wink of sorts to his star lady -- about halfway
Does "Larry Crowne" have its contrivances? Yes. Is there a measure
of expediency in the way the film gets from A to B to Z? Sure. Are
some parts, particularly well-worn bits about a boyfriend and girlfriend who
behave like less than that, tiresome, even irritating? Indeed.
Still, "Larry Crowne" never announces itself as a vehicle that will do much more
or less. It entertains suitably. Amidst a summer jam-packed with
bloated blockbusters, "Larry Crowne", a Hollywood film with the most racially
diverse cast I can remember since "Crash" (2005), succeeds only as
treacle-covered sentiment and sweet love for a prickly teacher. I smiled
and laughed a lot, even as I had more than a few questions. Where were the
red apples? Come on now, no apples? How about them
Cast-wise, George Takei is terrific as a pompous, self-aggrandizing
mathematics-physics teacher who understandably discourages cell-phone use in
class. Mr. Takei's character would have every right
to do this within 38 seconds instead of
confiscate Larry's phone during class. The film cheekily wallows in the
generation gap between Larry and his fellow students, nodding like an
unwavering, obedient bobblehead doll. The legendary Pam Grier cameos as
one of Mercedes' colleagues and confidants. I had hoped for more of her in
the film, and Mr. Hanks appears to under-light her profile in a few scenes
before showing her in full bloom and warmth later.
Above all, the film's standout, the person most representing the idealism and
good-heartedness "Larry Crowne" offers, is the eager, bright and endlessly
charming Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia, an enterprising free-spirit and scooter
enthusiast who makes many cosmetic differences in Larry's life. Talia is
charming, intelligent and dare I say, accommodating, but not in the sense you
may be thinking. You may (or may not) wonder why Larry wouldn't want to
date her. (I assume that Talia, as a college student, would be 19 or 20.)
The film also laughs at such dating possibilities while hinting at them. mostly
through one jealous character. Alas, the bitter teacher, who has done
little to gain Larry's affections -- and only perhaps because of one drunken
evening -- wins out over the kind idealist.
With: Rob Riggle, Wilmer Valderrama, Rami Malek, Malcolm Barrett, Maria
Canals-Barrera, Dale Dye, Grace Gummer, Sarah Levy, Julia Cho, Rita Wilson,
Holmes Osborne, Biff Henderson, and the voice of Nia Vardalos.
"Larry Crowne" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America
for brief strong language and some sexual content. The film's running time
is one hour and 39 minutes.
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