Thursday, December 01, 2011

698 - Larry Crowne review

The great hit of 1994 that never was, the Tom Hanks starring and directed “Larry Crowne” holds a mirror up to American society and boldly declares that everything’s going to be fine, as long as you’re unfailingly simple and polite.

That’s the chief character arc of the titular protagonist, Larry Crowne (name repeated in full several dozen times), a middle-aged milquetoast who finds himself unexpectedly discharged from his duties at a big box store. The reason: since Larry Crowne didn’t go to college, he can’t advance into the corporate structure, and this violates policy. With this you’re told early on that writers Hanks and Nia Vardalos aren’t taking this whole making a movie thing too seriously.

But for a while, Hanks’ laid back performance, light directorial touch, and sunny outlook grant “Larry Crowne” an easy flow that makes Larry Crowne, and that’s Crowne with an ‘e,’ a sympathetic everyman embodying the economic downturn. Larry Crowne’s at that age where it’s too late to truly start over but too early to call it quits, and the crass indifference his plight meets in his supposed peers will ring true to those who have had to suffer the laughs of their moral inferiors. Even Larry Crowne's initial life step, trading in a gas-guzzling SUV for a scooter (the primary image of the ad campaign), possesses a certain charm in its tacit proclamation of slimming rejuvenation.

“Larry Crowne,” both character and film, nosedives when Larry Crowne attends community college, where he’s immediately surrounded by a litany of phony, irritating supporting characters, not the least of which is Julia Roberts’ sulky, disenchanted speech instructor. Her husband, played by the great Bryan Cranston, whose performance on “Breaking Bad” just might be the most marvelous thing I’ve ever seen an actor do, is a porn enthusiast, something the script treats as if Hanks and Vardalos had believe such a thing to be the height of contemporary aberrance.

Larry Crowne befriends an insufferable twerp (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who promptly rechristens him ‘Lance Corona’ in a way that suggests Hanalos finds this endearing rather than obnoxious and insulting. She also throws out his clothes and dresses him up as if he were 20 years younger, which anyone with a brain can tell you doesn't make a 55-year-old man look 35, it makes him look stupid. Ever notice how free spirits are incredibly bossy?

By the end, Larry Crowne, or Lance Corona, if you prefer, learns to master Econ 101 and Speech, winning his professor with his charms and basically proving that redemptive power of community college. Who knew that starting over would be this easy, or this irritating?

2 out of 5

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