Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review - Larry Crowne

After a career in the Navy and years of service at a merchandising superstore, Larry Crowne a middle-aged man loses his job due to corporate downsizing. With no college degree and no jobs to be found Larry returns to community college in order to better his poor economic situation and reinvent himself.

There is an old tried and true story that has been told numerous times through a number of movies revolving around a person trying to fit in. “Larry Crowne” takes this idea and puts it into the body of a 50 something year-old man (Tom Hanks). I should clarify, Larry Crowne’s intentions never are to “fit in,” instead the movie is about a divorced and economically struggling aged man working towards bettering his quality of living after losing his job. The comedy becomes about Larry reinventing himself versus trying to fit in, the big but here is that regardless of what the movie is trying to achieve, it simply comes across as the old guy trying to look hip.

The script written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) adds characters that push Larry Crowne along in his reinvention. Essentially Crowne stumbles into each eventual physical change with a half-witted grin on his face because his character is told to do so. In a number of ways Larry Crowne comes across as simple or naïve, then in other instances, he comes across sharp and resourceful. The separation comes in his personality versus his work ethic. It is a very odd balance that never helped the films’ cause.

One area I can praise without reservation is all of the characters written. They all feel real. The adult-comedy has genuine characters that come across recognizable and/or connectable. Everyone Crowne connects with throughout the film are well written and valuable to the emotion of the story. It certainly helps that the majority of the actors in these supporting roles deliver natural and comical portrayals to the characters. Cedric the Entertainer, George Takei, Taraji P. Henderson, Bryan Cranston, Ian Gomez, Malcolm Barrett and Rami Malek really help jell together a story that spends an awful lot of film meandering in a short snapshot of time. George Takei and Rami Malek for instance are the only reasons the classroom sequences are even tolerable.

Nia Vardalos’ writing rings through incredibly well in the character of Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). Mercedes Tainot is Larry Crowne’s professor at community college and eventual love interest. “Larry Crowne” almost halves itself with the story arc of Mercedes Tainot, a married community college professor who is unfulfilled in her career. The audience is introduced to these two characters that are unsatisfied with their current situations and then the script crashes them together expecting a relationship to happen. The problem is Larry Crowne comes across like the awkward old guy you feel sorry for while Mercedes Tainot feels natural. Here's where the feminine perspective of co-writer Nia Vardalos comes in, Tainot see's the human side of Larry Crowne. While the background to the film is focused on reinvention and bettering one's self, Mercedes Tainot see's through all that (at least that is what we are made to believe), she falls for Larry despite his flaws. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy seeing Julia Roberts in another romantic comedy, but unfortunately the romantic arcs in "Larry Crowne" are predictable and uninspired to say the least. The true inspiration in this story is a aged man who has had a 20 year career in the Navy can go back to school and start all over.

Tom Hanks had a timely film on his hands with the current economic status of America. Unemployment continues to be high, homes are being foreclosed and a lot of people are in a time of economic crisis. He created a character in Larry Crowne that when times are tough he doesn't buckle, but instead he hunkers down and fixes things. The downside to all that admirable setup is "Larry Crowne" gets mixed up with a crowd who is transfixed on image and making him look hip. Top all that off with a very mediocre love story that really only skims the surface and a once strong message ends up being diluted. Diluted by the excuse of allowing the audience a chance to connect with our central character.