Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne isn’t a great movie, but then it very obviously never tries to be one. It sets out to be a pleasant, sweet-natured entertainment that tries to avoid cynicism (perhaps a little too hard). On that basis, it succeeds well enough. The massive critical disdain it’s been subjected to strikes me as overkill of the worst kind—rather like smacking a kitten for being cute. That it isn’t gag-making cute is a reasonable accomplishment in my book. And I’ll slip in a bonus point for being made by people who are aware that the Electric Light Orchestra recorded something other than “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Don’t Bring Me Down.”
I think a large part of the problem lies in a mistaken notion of what the movie is, since the assumption appears to be that this is a movie about job loss due to downsizing. While the film certainly reflects the current economy and the plight of a 50-ish man looking for a job, it really has more to do with a man being fired over the kind of foolishness only found in corporate employee handbooks. Larry Crowne (Hanks) is not downsized, he’s fired—despite being a good employee—because he has no college education. According to the corporate babble, he has to be fired because he is therefore ineligible for further promotion and the company frowns on workers who cannot rise any higher. The premise is related to our times, but it’s not meant to be a big statement on the current economy. (Having seen The Company Men earlier this year, I’m not sure this is such a bad thing.)
There are difficulties with the film—mostly owing to the screenplay by Hanks and Nia Vardolos, both of whom are capable of good dialogue and clever business, but neither of whom appear to be comfortable straying too far from a sitcom mindset. Hanks is a creative enough director to mask this part of the time, but the movie does tend to feel like it exists in a sanitized, TV world. Fortunately, a lot of its precious-sounding concepts play better than they read. The idea of Larry hooking up with a “motor scooter gang” of “misfits” at community college sounds chilling, but as presented, it’s not so bad. I was expecting a parade of forced quirky “types,” and I didn’t get them. The misfit angle is, in fact, almost nonexistent.
What we have essentially is the story of Larry reinventing himself—and allowing himself to be reinvented—by going to community college where he makes some new friends, learns some things and falls in love with disillusioned speech teacher Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). The characters are drawn well enough for the film’s purposes, with most of the rest carried by the generally likable cast—especially George Takei as a slightly disturbing economics professor. Sure, there are areas of satire and realism that are missed. I fully believe in the lazy, delusional character of Mercedes’ unemployed writer husband (Bryan Cranston), who thinks responding to comments on sci-fi blogs and surfing for internet porn constitutes working. (I do not believe in the film’s depiction of his porn surfing for a minute, however.) But does it really matter? Not much. This isn’t the aim of the film. Rather, it simply wants to be a nice little romantic comedy with a positive vibe. It is. Sometimes that’s enough. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual content.