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June 24, 2013

Larry Crowne

by Franz Patrick


Larry Crowne (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a former chef in the Navy, has been an associate at UMart for several years. He shares a camaraderie with his co-workers, is friendly to customers, and great at his job. When he is called in by his superiors, he suspects he is to be named Employee of the Month. In actuality, his bosses inform him that he has been let go, citing the bad economy as a reason. Also, they tell Larry that even though he is good at what he does, there is no chance of him ever climbing the corporate ladder because he did not go to college. His solution: to go back to school and get a degree.

Written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos, “Larry Crowne” takes serious issues involving job instability and unemployment and colors them with a lighter shade, often to an amusing effect. Some might say that this is an inappropriate avenue given that there is nothing funny about a person losing his or her job. While getting fired or let go along with the feelings it unearths is a serious matter–more than a handful have become so desperate that they committed suicide–the filmmakers intended to make a comedy. Therefore, it must be evaluated with respect to the genre and not what we believe is or is not respectful.

When Larry decides to go back to school, the picture carries a certain excitement. From the people he meets, like cute-as-a-button Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her passion for vintage clothes, to the classes he signs up for, like Speech 217, The Art of Informal Remarks, led by Marcedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), and Economics 1, led by Dr. Ed Matsutani (George Takei), there is grace in the way subplots pile on top of one another. I enjoyed tug-o’-war between the youthfulness of the situation and Larry, no longer a young pup, trying to keep up with the groove. It is not always easy.

Serious situations are not simply swept under the rug. The scenes of Larry having to make difficult decisions since he can no longer afford the mortgage for his house ring some truths. His interactions with his neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson), holding a year-round garage sale, offers some humor but it has enough small, personal moments that serve as a reminder that they, too, have had their share of pecuniary instability. In a way, Larry sees the happy couple as possible life he can have if he can manage to get his life back on track somehow.

It is not just Larry who has to struggle. Mercedes is extremely frustrated with her husband (Bryan Cranston), a writer who claims he gets work done at home when, in reality, he spends a lot of his time looking at pornography. On top of her problems at home, she no longer feels passionate about teaching. So, she turns to alcohol to drown the thoughts and feelings that she does not want to deal with. I enjoyed that this message is communicated clearly: hangovers disappear but problems do not.

My problem with the movie is neither its intentions nor its small scope. It is in the many conveniences of the script that do not feel completely believable. While Larry and Mercedes are supposed to be yin and yang, their scenes wonderful to watch when life’s silly coincidences converge with their effusive charms, some strands left me wanting more.

For instance, Larry eventually joins a bike gang after being invited by Talia. There is chemistry between the two even though they are about thirty years apart in age. I felt that the material shies away from their electricity, relying on the bike gang distraction as a sort of quirk, an excuse for them to not deal with their feelings. Talia is an adult, smart and plucky, and there should have been no shame in a possible romance between them. Instead, the script conveniently paints her as “the nice girl,” a plot device designed to build a romantic bridge between Larry and Mercedes.

“Larry Crowne,” directed by Tom Hanks, is about people trying to make it through one day at a time but it needs more highs that feel more complete–highs that are not restricted to Mercedes binge drinking after a long day of work.

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