Meet Larry Crowne, U-Mart employee who in the first ten to fifteen seconds of the film we have pretty much sussed out. As a man who instantly demands the sympathy of the audience, we know something bad is going to happen to him, followed by something good, followed by something a little worse, followed by something BRILLIANT.
It’s the classic journey of self discovery. Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), after a rough divorce and a long navy career, works in a supermarket only to get fired out of the blue. After a quick job hunting montage it is recommended that he attend a couple of courses at the local community college, where he enrols and meets a group of cool liberal college-types who help him along in his new life. Julia Roberts, a professor in one of Larry’s classes, is borderline alcoholic and disenchanted with her job. Of course, she instantly takes a dislike to Crowne, but having only that morning complained that all she wants to do is make a difference to one of her students, everything is set to change…
Larry Crowne is a film of two halves. As it gets going, the amount of clichéd characters and predictable plot elements are disappointing. Hanks is sweet but easily led, and allows his hair to be cut and living-room rearranged by a gang of youngsters the likes of which have not been seen on screen this side of the nineties. The scenes in college, where his classmates are made up of a plethora of stock comedy characters, don’t go far to redeem this motif.
But before you dismiss the film, the second half of Larry Crowne comes into play. It might be that it gets better, it might be that I just didn’t care anymore. But suddenly the jokes became funny, the characters likeable, and the film made me smile. Once over the hump of complete unoriginality, and disregarding the lack of chemistry between characters, I quite enjoyed Bryan Cranston’s cameo as Julia Roberts porn-obsessed husband, or the class clown Steve Dibiasi’s snappy one-liners, or the small moments reminiscent of early Tom Hanks comedy movies.
Hanks and Roberts clearly know how to present themselves in a film like this, and they worked well independently as comedy characters, despite a lack of real depth to their interaction. Surprisingly, even though playing a grumpy and sour-faced lecturer, Julia Roberts was likeable (a feat for both her character and the actress) and Tom Hanks was ever the professional as he portrayed a convincing fifty-something guy we just love to pity.
Of course, anyone going to see this film knows what they are getting themselves into, and as predictable as it is, Larry Crowne has a kind of charm. It follows the classic rom-com pattern with barely any diversion, and the comedy isn’t really strong enough to steer away from this. But for reasons unknown, the many flaws of this film can be almost forgiven, providing a satisfying ninety-nine minutes of light entertainment.