I like Tom Hanks. Then again, everybody likes Tom Hanks. With stuff like Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Big and the Toy Story movies on his resume, how couldn’t you? As likeable as he is, most of the movies he’s starred in the past decade have been anything but. Think about it… When was the last time Tom Hanks starred in a really good movie? No, Toy Story 3 doesn’t count since it’s clearly a voiceover job. Neither do the Robert Langdon movies since those clearly suck!
By my watch, the last Hanks movie I enjoyed was Charlie Wilson’s War, the Aaron Sorkin-scripted, Mike Nichols-directed political comedy which saw him team up, for the first time, with Julia Roberts. But that was in 2007. Before that, you’d have to go back all the way to 2002 (Catch Me If You Can and Road to Perdition) to find a very good Hanks film. While the fluffy and light-hearted Larry Crowne, Hanks’ second film as writer-director, is a charming film with an effortless performance from Hanks, it’s still nowhere close to being a good film.
Larry Crowne (Hanks) is an eight-time “Employee of the Month” at a Wal-Mart-like store in Los Angeles. Dedicated, friendly and yes, likeable, Larry is loved by just about everyone at his workplace. Thinking he is about to be awarded “Employee of the Month” for the ninth time, Larry is instead laid off because he doesn’t have a college degree. Jobless and with an enormous mortgage to pay off on his home, Larry finds himself stuck with an uncertain future. Undeterred, the optimistic Crowne takes the advice of his neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer) and enrolls in the local community college. He even invests in a scooter to save cash.
At school, Larry enrolls in a public-speaking course taught by Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), a 40-something alcoholic who has lost interest in her profession and in her marriage. Tainot’s husband (a wasted Bryan Cranston), a once successful writer, spends his time browsing porn and chatting on forums. “I’m a guy who’s a guy, being a guy” is his excuse. In college, the likeable Larry meets more likeable students (see a trend here). Larry also befriends Talia (Gugu Mbtha-Raw), a likeable scooter enthusiast who gives Larry a much-needed makeover, to the chagrin of her boyfriend, the likeable Dell (Wilber Valderrama). Commence harmless quirkiness, comic meetings, romance and kumbayas.
There’s nothing inherently bad about Larry Crowne. It’s a sweet, well-intentioned summer soufflé that you’re bound to forget an hour after you watch it. As Crowne, Hanks is his charming likeable self. His performance here is akin to his work in Spielberg’s The Terminal, a film that’s a spiritual sibling to Larry Crowne. It helps that Roberts and him make a captivating, albeit unconventional couple. The problem with Larry Crowne is that Hanks and co-writer Nia Vardalos never inspired to make a movie that’s anything above the level of a fluffy sitcom. Sure it’s sweet and cuddly but where’s the conflict? Who wants to watch a movie where the main character simply coasts through without a hitch? Because of this, the film is often grossly predictable and bland.
Larry Crowne is a well-intentioned comedy-drama that’s akin to a summer trifle. It’s sweet, safe and heart-warming. But for a cynic like me, I found the film ridiculously optimistic. Still, it’s far from a bad film and the chemistry of Hanks and Roberts make it a decent time (on DVD).