“Larry Crowne” is just another paper-thin drama/comedy. It isn’t particularly funny nor is it very serious, considering it deals with the topic of job loss and the recession. It might give you a feel good romantic comedy feeling but nothing more.
It centers on Navy veteran Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks, who is also the director, co writer and co producer), who’s your usual responsible worker-does-the-right thing-enthusiastic-about-life protagonist. He’s the sort of guy who loves his job, even though the job is a team leader at the Big Box Store. However, things go bad when he loses the job because he didn’t go to college.
Frankly, this character would have been much better if Hanks didn’t play him. He doesn’t feel natural but instead awkward and uncomfortable, like he is being forced into playing the role. Someone like Will Ferrell would have been more suitable for the part, he does better playing these kinds of characters. With Ferrell in the Crowne role and Hanks in the director’s chair the movie might not be half bad.
After buying a Vespa scooter (to lower gas expenses), Crowne enrolls in a local community college where he comes across a fellow Vespa rider. A hip, outcast named Talia (Gugu-Mbatha-Raw) who invites Larry into her Vespa riding gang. They cruise down the streets, and they give him more hip happening clothes.
This part of the film was actually interesting. Hanks and Mbatha-Raw worked well together in a young meets old relationship and for a while you think maybe they will get together at the end. But then you remember Julia Roberts is in the movie, and that means she’s the love interest. She plays Crowne’s speech teacher Mercedes, who has lost the will to teach.
Roberts has a few funny lines but ultimately she’s a bore and kind of a downer.
Also, it takes a little too long for their romance to ensue. The two exchange glances and talk but that’s it. Instead, the movie spends a lot of time on the Larry-Talia relationship and about her dropping out of college to do what she really wants to do.
Eventually the sparks begin to happen between Mercedes and Larry and the Talia plot goes away, which is a shame because the Mercedes-Larry relationship is much less interesting. In fact you don’t really buy it, you don’t see their connection (whatever that may be). It just feels like it’s there because Roberts and Hanks are in the lead roles.
This is Hanks’ second feature film as a director and surprisingly he has a pretty good sense of the camera. The shots that he stages are well done and the film has a nice clean look to it over all. But there were certain creative directions that he did, like when Talia texts Larry, the phone and the text show up on the screen, or a split screen montage during the opening credits, that were fun to look at but didn’t go with the film.
The script by Hanks and Nia Vardalos (the writer and star of the 2002 comedy “My Big fat Greek Wedding”) had some funny parts to it, such as Larry’s stingy neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) who’s been running a yard sale as his full time job. The humor wasn’t raunchy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it was dry. One of the funniest things in the entire movie probably wasn’t even from the script but a wise casting decision to hire Star Trek actor George Takei as one of Larry’s professors. There is just something hilarious about seeing Takei’s face and watching him laugh hysterically for no reason.
All in all there is nothing memorable or satisfying about “Larry Crowne.” But Hanks has shown that he’s a competent director. With a few actor and story changes, “Larry Crowne” could have been an interesting exploration of the theme of career change.