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Z’s Review of Larry Crowne

The thing with Larry Crowne is that it turns out to be a very different movie from the one who you thought you were going to see and I have to blame those that cut the trailer and the commericals. It turns out that it is really not a movie starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, even though they are the biggest names. Larry Crowne is the first true ensemble film that has come out in a long time that quite frankly was a joy to watch.

While it’s easy to point out how Tom Hanks hasn’t really had a major film success in years, he is still very well loved by a lot of folks including boomers who spend a lot of money going out to movies or purchasing blu-rays. The same thing can be said about Julia Roberts. Her last big success was Erin Brockovich which won her the Oscar while also having the dubious distinction of being the last real movie she has starred in that has made money, (Eat, Pray, Love was a piece of crap, so don’t even think of bringing that up). In spite of this fact, she is still very much loved by the same boomer crowd and if Bucket List or Wild Hogs is any indication, it is not a bad idea to make movies that speak to them. And for the record, I am still a fan of both these actors.

Then along comes Larry Crowne.

The backstory on it is that Tom Hanks’ Playtone Pictures (in partnership with the newly-formed Vendome Pictures) bankrolled the full $30 million budget while Hanks also directed the film and co-wrote it with Nia Vardalos. At first glance, it might seem that this is not exactly the wisest choice for a man known for his fantastic acting skills, however this is not the first time he has made a film.  His first film under the Playtone banner is the brilliant, hidden treasure of a film that he also wrote and directed, That Thing You Do.  It is a classic that was driven by a strong cast of then unknowns anchored in the background by Mr Hanks himself.

That is the same idea here more or less. A large portion of the cast is more known this time around with Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Pam Grier, Brian Cranston, a perfectly cast Wilder Valderrama, a brilliantly hilarious performance from George Takei and of course the obligatory cameo from his stunning wife Rita Wilson. We also get a great cast of unknowns who will definitely be known in the immediate future led by one of the main reasons I loved Larry Crowne as much as I did, Gugu Mbatha-Raw who played the spirit guide to Crowne during his foray into community college.

The story to Larry Crowne is not complicated.  Larry Crowne who is a super-employee at a big-box department store a la Wal-Mart where for the stupidest reason I have ever heard, he gets fired. Not knowing what to do next, he heads to community college at the urging of his friends and neighbours Lamar and B’Ella where on his first day, he meets a wildchild named Talia and her motley gang of scooter drivers who proceed to push (sometimes force) him to create and embrace change. From there we see Crowne go through a journey where he finds a new version of himself that he prefers to the old department store version.  This version also falls in love with his teacher played by Julia Roberts who is in her own personal hell through a bad marriage to a porn loving douchebag.

While it comes across as a romantic-comedy, that is really a small-part of it.  The whole movie really is about a journey Tom Hanks’ character takes as his life is turned upside down in these ridiculously tough times. Similar in concept to the brilliant Johns Wells film The Company Men, Larry Crowne embarks on a journey that quite a few folks are currently on. Along the way he comes across new people in his life that change the way he looks at things while being supported by his true friends who stick by him. It is this journey and the support and guidance he receives that is the true essence of the film.  The romance is just a nice added bonus of having taken that first step.

As I started off this review, one of the main problems I have with the film is not with the film itself but with the studio that decided to use it as counter-programming to Transformers3, a film that is easily going to make a ton of money on its opening weekend.

There was no reason to open it in the summer during the height of blockbuster season. This movie plays perfectly during the Christmas holiday film season and would have easily made double whatever its opening weekend was.  A little tweaking with the marketing and this movie could have been a bit of a hit. My fear is that it will get lost in the shuffle only to be seen again on TBS repeats on Sunday afternoon.

The pacing was great as it wasn’t too fast or too slow. Tom Hanks firing basically happens during the opening credits which leaves the rest of the movie to focus on his experience in college. I loved that about the movie as it seems lately that filmmakers have to hit us over the head and spend half the movie explaining why the lead character is doing what he is doing. In Larry Crowne, he gets fired and we move on.  And despite his wonky choice of clothes (including a chain wallet), Tom Hanks plays Larry Crowne perfectly oozing the charm that he is known for while making us empathize with him as he deals with circumstances out of his control.  Julia Roberts was also very good as her job is to be the romantic interest for Crowne, not carry the movie like we normally see her do.

This dynamic acts as a great base to a movie with some very charming performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, George Takei and for me, the movie stealing Wilder Valderrama.  This is why I enjoyed Hanks performance, because he got of the way and let the supporting cast do their job.

If you are looking for a nice light-hearted movie, definitely see Larry Crowne. It might surprise you as it did me.

Rating : three out of four stars.