Review: Larry Crowne
PLOT: After being fired from his retail job for not having a college degree, Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks); a middle-aged divorcee, enrols in university. He takes a class taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), who, in addition to a classroom full of apathetic students, has an immature husband (Bryan Cranston) to contend with.
REVIEW: It always sucks when, as a film critic, you have to give a bad review to a film by someone you admire. I grew up watching Tom Hanks movies- from his eighties comedies like BIG, DRAGNET, and the great BACHELOR PARTY, through his incredible dramatic work in films like PHILADELPHIA, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, ROAD TO PERDITION, THE GREEN MILE, and more. Truly, hes one of the great leading men of our era. This is why it pains me to write this pan of a project thats obviously so close to Hanks heart, with him not only starring, but also sharing screenplay credit with Nia Vardalos (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING), as well as producing AND directing.
Lest we forget, LARRY CROWNE is not Hanks first time as director, with him having directed the rather underrated THAT THING YOU DO! (which featured one of the most obscenely hummable theme songs in movie history), but that was fifteen years ago, and CROWNE is an uneven follow-up to say the least.
Right from the get-go, I could tell something was seriously wrong with LARRY CROWNE. Crownes firing, which should have been a devastating scene, tries to be funny- with Rob Riggles character making fun of Crowne for not having gone to college and losing his job. No boss, no matter how much of an asshole they are, would act like that, much less in the presence of the companys CEO (played by Dale Dye of all people), and this scene just felt phony- even for a comedy. This phony feeling, which also struck me in Vardalos MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, persist throughout the entire film, and every time the film starts to feel genuine, we get an ill-advised comic set piece that made me want to scream bullshit at the screen.
To be fair to Hanks, the broadly comedic approach hes going for here is tough to pull off when youve got such a serious subject matter (nothing funny about finding yourself without a job and no way to support yourself), and sadly, Hanks doesnt quite manage. The major problem is simply that LARRY CROWNE just isnt funny. I dont think I had one honest laugh throughout the entire film, with the jokes ranging from obvious (jealous Julia Roberts convinced Hanks is having an affair with a hot, young student), to downright painful (all of George Takeis scenes as Hanks kooky economics teacher).
The only time LARRY CROWNE almost works is when it focuses on the burgeoning romance between Roberts character and Hanks. The two of them have undeniable chemistry, but shockingly, their romance is actually given short-shift, with it mostly being confined to the final half hour. Instead, most of the film focuses on Hanks adventures in University- but BACK TO SCHOOL this is not.
What really upsets me about LARRY CROWNE is that the premise is actually really solid. A lot of us have had that moment when weve hit rock bottom and had to start over, and this could have made for a really affecting comedy-drama mix. If a little pathos had been put into the film, it might have really worked, but thats not Hanks game.
However, part of the problem may in fact be me. This is a defiantly optimistic film, with everyone, from his gorgeous college pal played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw to the nice-guy dean played by Holmes Osborne, bending over backwards to give Crowne all the help he needs to rebuild his life- to the point that once again, the film felt phony. Maybe, Im just too much of a cynic to go with the flow for a film like this. Whatever the case, LARRY CROWNE just left me cold, and this might be the longest ninety minutes Ive spent in a theater this year. That said, Hanks is Hanks (the guy is, and always will be, a legend), and Im sure that there will be people out there that will appreciate this film for what it is. I suppose Im just not one of them.
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