Larry Crowne

Movie Information

The Story: A middle-aged man fired from his job decides to go to community college and change his life. The Lowdown: Simple -- sometimes simplistic -- unassuming romantic comedy that's a lot better than it's being given credit for.
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Director: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, George Takei, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson
Rated: PG-13

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “Larry Crowne

  1. I’m glad this is good. I was debating whether or not to see this, but your review and the Cranston factor has tipped it over for me.

  2. You may be only person who has ever written that.

    Possibly, but I did once listen to a discussion on Kevin Pollack’s Chat Show about whether the DVDs of Breaking Bad contained more examples of ‘Cranston-ass’.


  3. Ken Hanke

    Possibly, but I did once listen to a discussion on Kevin Pollack’s Chat Show about whether the DVDs of Breaking Bad contained more examples of ‘Cranston-ass’.

    Kevin Pollack’s erotic fantasies to one side…

  4. Kevin Deany

    I saw Pam Grier at a book signing event last summer and she said she had a small role in this. Is she still in it, or did she get cut out? I haven’t seen a mention of her in any of the reviews.

  5. Ken Hanke

    She’s in it. I’m not sure she’s in it enough that I’d recommend seeing it because of her.

  6. She’s in it. I’m not sure she’s in it enough that I’d recommend seeing it because of her.

    I DO recommend seeing Pam on the Warner Archives title HIT MAN (blaxploitation remaker of GET CARTER). Yeeow!

  7. dpewen

    I will not see a movie with Julia Roberts in it.
    Thanks goodness all the flicks I see cannot afford her.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I will not see a movie with Julia Roberts in it.

    You know, back before my ability to dodge movies starring people I don’t like went south, I had the exact same attitude, but after having to sit through movies with her in them, I have to admit that I don’t have the problem with her now that I did back in the Pretty Woman era. I was actually impressed with her in Closer and, to some extent, Charlie Wilson’s War.

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