Movie Review: Larry Crowne
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
A strange thing happens when Tom Hanks writes and directs a movie: All of the characters act and talk like they could have been played by Tom Hanks. The line deliveries, the rhythms — all Hanks-ish, all the time. In some ways, this is auteurship, I suppose, but that doesn't make it any less jarring.
It happened in "That Thing You Do," Hanks' ode to early rock 'n' roll; it happened for 12 hours in the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon"; and it happens in the well-meaning but inadvertently odd "Larry Crowne."
Crowne, played with Hanks' trademark ebullience by Hanks himself, is a well-liked (of course) team leader at a local big-box store, the sort of guy who wears his glasses on a cord. He spent 20 years as a Navy cook and almost as much in retail, so it's a big surprise when he's laid off, allegedly because without a college degree, he cannot advance in the company. He's under on his mortgage, his life is no longer where it was or should be, he needs a change. So he enrolls in community college, where education comes in all sorts of forms.
A young hipster named Talia (ebullient English actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw ), who drives around the city and hits thrift stores with her scooter club, takes on Crowne as a makeover project, nicknaming him "Lance" and getting him into scooters. (This leads to a sight humans were not meant to know: Tom Hanks in skinny jeans and a chain wallet, irony not included.)
The other X-factor is Crowne's public speaking teacher, the amazingly bitter Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). Tainot's life has also gone sideways. She would love to be a pretentious, navel-gazing academic; instead, she teaches at community college while her writer husband (a hyper Bryan Cranston, making for one of the least credible couples of the year) blogs here and there and surfs the web for porn (which in HanksWorld seems to be stuff you might see in a J.C. Penney's catalog, but nevermind).
Tainot is mad at the world (annoyingly so; there's nothing wrong with teaching community college) in a way that seems beamed in from elsewhere, from a more serious "Larry Crowne," yet she's also gifted with decent comedic chops and gets a ton of laugh lines.
There's too much confusion here: Is this a straight-faced, mature movie about a middle-aged man starting over in a duff economy? Is it a romantic comedy starring an actor born for the form? Is it about folks staring down the barrel of AARP complaining about kids today? (Economics professor George Takei grabbing cell phones from students; Pam Grier complaining about Twitter and Facebook).
And to Hanks' credit as a writer, there's little here that couldn't have been tighened up with the veteran hand of a Nora Ephron (who directed Hanks note-perfectly in "You've Got Mail") or Rob Reiner. But again and again, "Larry Crowne" scans as a film where everyone walks around thinking, "It's nice being in a movie that's nice."
There's a line in J.D. Salinger's "Seymour: An Introduction" where the titular character urges his brother to "make peace with your wit. It's not going to go away."
Ever since Hanks bagged two Oscars back to back for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump," he seems to have been struggling with his wit. Hanks' natural timing is among Hollywood's best; he's been capable of hilarity ever since "Bosom Buddies." And he knows how a joke should land. There are plenty of sweet, good-natured laughs in "Larry Crowne" from Wilmer Valderrama as the tough-guy (no, really) leader of the scooter club to a very drunk Julia Roberts.
Folks used to think Albert Brooks was Hollywood's Woody Allen, but it's turned out to be Hanks. One pines for his earlier, funnier movies.