As we approach the midpoint of July in the summer movie season, a quick review shows that we have seen the return of Capt. Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” some youngsters facing an alien in “Super 8,” the honing of mutants’ skills in “X-Men: First Class,” the flop of a superhero in “Green Lantern,” a prime example of a perfectly horrible sequel in “The Hangover Part II,” an embarrassing failure of a comedy in “Bad Teacher,” and the surprising success of a group of potty-mouthed women in “Bridesmaids.”
What has been missing so far, however, is one of those feel-good romantic comedies that inoffensively appeal to all audiences and qualify as a good date movie. But we now have that in “Larry Crowne,” a delightfully entertaining film that should put a smile on your face and some love in your heart. Academy Award winner Tom Hanks wrote (along with Nia Vardalos), directed, and stars in this refreshingly different film that also boasts the presence of Academy Award winner Julia Roberts.
Larry Crowne is a 20-year veteran of the Navy who is happily employed as a clerk at U-Mart, and he excels at his job so much that he has an impressive consecutive monthly winning streak as employee of the month going. Thus, when he’s summoned over the loudspeaker to report to a meeting with his bosses, he naturally assumes that it is to receive their congratulations for still another win.
Unfortunately, however, Larry’s world collapses when his superiors inform him that his services will no longer be necessary. It seems that the company is imposing layoffs on employees who don’t have a college degree. Because Larry joined the Navy immediately upon being graduated from high school, he now finds himself terminated from a position he loves.
After unsuccessfully finding new employment and being turned down for a loan, Larry is talking with his neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), who has recently won the lottery and who sells everything imaginable from his garage, and he suggests that Larry go back to school.
“You get an education, and you’ll be fireproof,” Lamar says.
Larry takes his friend’s advice and enrolls in a local junior college where one of he courses he signs up for is Speech 217 taught by Professor Mercedes Tainot (Roberts). Mercedes is trapped in a bad marriage to a guy named Dean (Bryan Cranston), and she would rather be sitting around sipping alcoholic drinks that she mixes up in a blender than teaching. And after she meets the students in her Speech 217 class, she is ready to increase her daily alcohol intake.
To say that going back to school changes Larry’s life is an understatement. The first student he meets on campus is Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young woman who dubs Larry “Lance Corona,” teaches him to not tuck in his polo shirt, and invites him to join her motor scooter gang. (Larry bought a scooter from Lamar so that he could save money on gasoline.)
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this movie is going from the very beginning, but that really doesn’t matter because watching Larry adjust to life in school and learn things from his fellow students is worth the price of admission. His interplay with Talia and her friends is consistently fun to watch, and the scenes of Larry the classroom are delightful. In addition to the speech class, Larry has enrolled in an economics course taught by Dr. Matsutani portrayed by George Takei, who is beyond marvelous as the arrogant professor with the propensity for laughing loudly at his own jokes. The scenes in Matsutani’s classroom are among the finest in the film.
Like all great actors, Hanks is a master of producing memorable film characters like Forrest Gump in the movie of the same name, Paul Edgecomb in “The Green Mile,” Chuck Noland in “Cast Away,” Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia,” Charlie Wilson in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” and many more. In the film’s production notes, Hanks explained the origin of his character in this film.
“Out of my experience in junior college came this character of Larry Crowne. He has his life completely altered by the fact that he gets fired. They let him go under the pretense that he couldn’t advance because he didn’t go to college. So what does Larry do? Much like when I was out of high school, thank goodness, there’s a place called junior college, where nothing is expected of you except what you put into the day when you drive to campus.”
As you would expect, Hanks and Roberts, who are good friends in real life, complement each other nicely in their respective roles. All of their scenes together are quite natural and nothing seems artificial between them. It’s obvious that both performers enjoyed the parts they played and in the production notes, Roberts explained what she liked about her role.
“The story was charming, yet topical, for so many of the characters who are losing faith and trying to cope by rediscovering themselves. I was intrigued by it all, especially Mercedes and her drinking problem. As an actor to be able to play that, it is so fun and heartbreaking and challenging. She has pickled herself into this cocoon of an unhappy life. Mercedes has issues. She’s in a position where her dreams are not coming to fruition the way she pictured them. In a way, she’s in opposition to what Larry has decided to do for his life. She’s given up a bit, and he inspires her to reinvigorate herself.”
In addition the nice performances by Hanks, Roberts, and Takei, all the young actors portraying the students are terrific, and their performances make an invaluable contribution to the overall success of the film.
“Larry Crowne” (Give it a score of eight.) fills the void of what has been missing so far the summer film fare in that it is an ideal date film. It contains no graphic violence, explicit sex, or abundant foul language. In fact, anyone who is offended by anything in this film should go out into the woods, dig a deep hole, jump into it, and drop out of the human race. From beginning to end, this movie is just plain fun, and I wish we had more like it.