Sunday, July 17, 2011

Larry Crowne

"I forgot my helmet." "It's only a movie."
Spoiler alert-o-meter: Some spoilers ahead, including many important plot points and an allusion to the ending. If you've seen the trailer you should be able to guess how it ends. But don't let that stop you from reading my amazing review!

What’s in a name? Larry Crowne, the movie starring and directed by Tom Hanks, could have been called Tom Hanks is Larry Crowne. Because at this point, Hanks, and his co-star Julia Roberts, are so well known as movie stars that there can be no way to separate what we know of them as actors from any role they play.

"Take a left on Sunset and there you'll see it, In and Out Burger."
So, you go see a crowd-pleasing movie like Larry Crowne with a certain level of expectation, even if it’s only subliminal. Here, Hanks casts himself as the titular character, a man in his fifties who, after graduating high school, went into the Navy where he was a cook for twenty years. Now he works as one of the most devoted employees you will ever find at a Walmart/Target/KMart-type big box department store called UMart (I had to remind myself it’s not the name of a real chain, so worthy is it of brand name status).

Larry, called to a meeting by some of his managers, discovers to his amazement that he is not employee of the month for the ninth time, but out of a job due to some bogus store policy about not moving anyone up the ladder who doesn’t have a college degree. Out of a job, and with a crushing mortgage over his head, Larry hits bottom.

Hitting the bottom for Mr. Tom Hanks means staring into the mirror with moist, wistful eyes. There’s no time to introduce any trauma or real heartache. It’s mentioned in passing that Larry bought out his ex-wife’s portion of their house, but we never learn anything about her. Larry doesn’t have any kids; in fact this is one summer movie that is gloriously sans tykes. His neighbor, Lamar, played by Cedric the Entertainer, encourages Larry to go to college. For his part, Lamar doesn’t have to worry about his mortgage: he won the lottery and he now spends his day running a perpetual yard sale in his front yard (strange mixed message here—why doesn’t Lamar just talk Larry into buying lottery tickets?).

"And then Cedric, you say, I'll take fifteen for the TV."
Boom, there Larry goes, registering for classes at the nearest college. While initially awkward in a new social milieu, Larry takes to school like he probably took to his menial tasks at UMart: with a spark of seriousness for the work at hand. He signs up for two classes, one that teaches how to speak in front of an audience and an introduction to economics. One can’t help wonder, why didn’t he go back to school earlier?

It’s not like Larry Crowne’s simple. In fact, the movie takes pains to make sure we never think this. Larry’s a special guy, maybe a man out of time, but he ain’t stupid. Larry Crowne, the character, is cute and cuddly and completely non-threatening—tailor made for Hanks, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.

Teaching his speech class is Julia Roberts, as Mercedes Tainot. Mercedes is smart and bitter, and doesn’t enjoy teaching. She goes home after work and concocts lovely frozen drinks and gets quietly blotto. She’s married to a writer (Bryan Cranston), who, after publishing a couple of what look like fantasy/sci-fi novels, stays at home and surfs the web, ogling busty ladies. He claims to be doing some kind of important blog writing. But he only leaves comments on other blogs. Yep, the spark is out of this marriage, although they live in a great house so that must help.

Larry’s economics class is taught by Dr. Matsutani, a professor who shows his class slides from his book on economics which each student in his class must buy and read. Dr. Matsutani is played with bravado and strangeness by George Takei. Takei’s a funny guy, and the movie benefits from his manic laugh and steely eyes.

Larry, riding his scooter to his first day of school (he sidelined his SUV because he couldn’t afford the gas), meets hyper cute Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), also a scooter rider. Turns out she’s in the same economics class. She befriends him and overpowers him with cute, forcing him to join her scooter gang.

"You look like Tom Hanks." "I am Tom Hanks. Wanna be in my movie?"
Yes, scooter gang. The movie strains credulity at this point, as Talia and her hot boyfriend, Dell (!!!!), played by Wilmer Valderrama, take Larry under their wings. Talia is a free spirit, the kind only born and bred in L.A. She and her merry band see Larry as some kind of charity case. They cute their way into his dour, messy house and straighten up while one of them gives Larry a cute hair cut. “It’s like Clueless,” Liz whispered to me. Yes, indeed here we have a makeover scene like so many others.

Erstwhile Sit-Com Star Stare Down
From here it’s business as usual for the story. Can you guess what happens? Larry thaws Mercedes’ irascible heart around the time she kicks her stupid husband out of the house (but, what a house!). You can’t not have Julia Roberts smile her wide Julia Roberts’ Smile™, and during a scene of prolonged (albeit drunken, on Mercedes part) courtship, she finally breaks out that bad boy.

"Julia, in this scene I want you to smile." "That'll be an extra 5 Mil." "Done."
What happens to Larry? Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. You know why? Because Larry is never in any real danger. Turns out he’s the best student in both his classes. What about a job? Larry takes a temporary job as a cook at his buddy’s diner. What about Larry’s house? Larry figures out (he’s taking economics, after all) the best way is to declare insolvency and walk away from his mortgage. And hey, maybe his humungous record collection will bring some money on eBay. And hey, maybe one of the cute scooter kids will help him with that. 
"I liked it better without the helmets."
Why does everybody want to help Larry Crowne? It’s impossible to know. There is never a moment of peril. Larry has no real internal struggle or conflict. Nothing really bothers Larry. He’s one of those guys who always lands on his feet. If anything, Larry Crowne is one of those guys everybody secretly hates. Why do these kids, who could be his own kids (ah ha! – but no, this isn’t brought out in the least), give a shit about Larry? Why does Talia, the cutest girl in all of Los Angeles (and perhaps all the world), even give Larry a second glance? The character growth aspect of the story is handed over to Roberts’ Mercedes, as she (Spoiler Alert!) sheds her hard-drinking ways and her no-good, big boob-loving husband, and learns to appreciate teaching again. 

"Tom Hanks, can I be in your movie?" "Me too!"
Sure it’s rote, but it’s also a movie that exudes heart and gentleness. One aspect I really enjoyed was the setting. The movie takes place in a real, if somewhat polished, Los Angeles. Not some nameless American every town, but contemporary L.A. It’s nice to see L.A. used for good for once. As Larry and his merry band of scooter enthusiasts cruise the San Fernando Valley, L.A. looks pretty good for once. The palm trees aren’t wilted or dying. The traffic isn’t too oppressive. The ubiquitous plazas aren’t too annoying. Also, Larry is a willing participant in his makeover after which he comes away with the haircut and stylish wardrobe of a twenty-something. But, the movie never makes him look stupid: Larry knows he is not dressing age appropriate, but he’s open to new ideas especially from his new, much younger friends. He knows he’s been due for a makeover for quite some time.

"I throw in all smirks. This is a smirk."
Larry Crowne is an entertainment, starring very good looking actors playing versions of regular people living normal lives. The movie is fun, and there are moments, like that scooter cruise around the Valley, that help it transcend mundane Hollywood boilerplate to become a rousing underdog story. Rousing may be too strong a word. How about gently moving?



Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday, July 12th, 6:50 pm. Price: 6.00. Viewed with Liz! Snack: apple, chopped and bagged.

Coming Attractions:

Please release these movies so I don't have to watch the trailers again!

Change Up. Ryan Reynolds is a single guy popular with the ladies, but tired of his lifestyle. Jason Bateman is a married guy with a couple kids, also tired of his lifestyle. After pissing in a magic fountain (seriously!) the two switch lives. It's an R-rated Freaky Friday rip off. But, this one has potential.

Crazy Stupid Love. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Julianne Moore. A young couple and an older couple going through dramady romantic escapades, while Ryan, a player, shows Steve, a shy, awkward dude, the ropes to picking up women. At least that's what I think happens. Along with some other stuff.


Liz's Mom said...

This review is funny and cute and entertaining.I loved reading it.

You always seem to get the flavor of the movie into your essay.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's Mom! Funny, cute, and entertaining describes the movie (pretty much) as well.

Stay cool.

Laurie Smith Murphy said...

Wasn't sure I wanted to see this film, but now I think I will. Thanks, Dell!

Dell Smith said...

Laurie, I think you'd definitely enjoy it.