“Larry Crowne” is a Cinderfella story for tough times. It is both a dated, lackluster comedy and a genial, old-fashioned romance. The lack of raunch and violence in this film is commendable.
Though there is a relaxed warmth to some scenes, others fall resoundingly flat. The warmth can be attributed to Tom Hanks’ presence, but the leaden jokes feel like pure Nia Vardalos, who co-wrote the script with Hanks.
Playing an affable Everyman, Hanks has a talent for improving ordinary material with his inherent likability. Tom Hanks plays a title character Larry, a squeaky-clean divorced Navy vet.
He is suddenly fired after many years on the job at a big-box store (in this economy, someone’s got to go, and Larry doesn’t have a college degree).
Without pausing to feel sorry for himself, Larry dumps his house — he was underwater on the mortgage anyway — switches from a gas-guzzling SUV to a more sensible, if sexier, second-hand scooter, takes a part-time job as a short order cook and heads to college to start over.
Larry’s pastel-colored moped grabs the attention of lively student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The scooter “gang” Talia travels with is about as believable as the Jets in West Side Story. Though he is a couple of decades older, Larry is taken into their slow-moving fold.
This subplot is the most forced, especially Larry’s cringe-inducing makeover. Larry enrolls in three classes, including economics, taught by George Takei (Star Trek), and speech.
Julia Roberts plays a public-speaking professor Mercedes. She has lost her passion at home and in the classroom. She doesn’t appear to teach the subject as much as sit and smirk.
Only drinking margaritas brings a bona fide smile to her face. Mercedes is unhappily married to a surly writer (Bryan Cranston) who occupies himself with watching ogling Internet porn all days long. Hanks and Roberts have an easy chemistry.
Hanks plays his character with a slightly dazed, deer-in-the-headlights grin. As for Roberts’s scowling, the actress seems to have Botoxed her famous smile into submission for the first two-thirds of the film.
Making Larry, and the audience, wait an hour before we see the whites of her teeth is a major miscalculation. When she and Larry finally kiss, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to. But the script demands it.
“Larry Crowne” is neither swooningly romantic nor howlingly funny. The film’s biggest laugh comes when Roberts’s character asks one of her students, snarkily, “Are you clairvoyant?” and he answers, “No, Steve Dibiasi.” All that’s missing is the rimshot. This film is comfortably familiar. [via USA Today, Daily Mail (UK) and The Washington Post]