! = recommended
* = all-ages
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When I first saw the trailer for Larry Crowne, I was overjoyed. I'll admit taken on its own, it looked like the sort of over-the-top annoying saccharine nonsense that gets made when a big star writes, directs, produces and stars in his own romantic comedy. But then I realized that it must be the "what if they met years later?" mashup of Forest Gump and Pretty Woman I've been waiting forever for Hollywood to wise up and make. It was a heavy blow indeed when I realized that wasn't the storyline at all! Probably akin with what my friends described to me a few years back when they realized the characters in Sweeney Todd weren't going to stop singing anytime soon. Though at least presumably that situation had a bloody catharsis thing going on providing some sort of release.
In terms of likely box-office success Larry Crowne definitely has three things going for it - Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and an unchallenging plot. Unfortunately, to be a really great film that's not going to be enough. In short: it's a basic romantic comedy that had me seriously groaning by the end. Actually pretty close to the beginning, though I was laughed enough that I was distracted for a bit from how treacle stuffed the entire enterprise was. If you love, love, love Hanks and/or Roberts I don't think there's anything here that's gonna change your mind. So don't be too scared of seeing it. It's not like either of these folks is turning in a performance likely to shock or offend their core constituencies (Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy this is not). Lots of folks are going to dig this film, don't worry - I won't judge you if you're one of them. But for me I'd have to suggest seeing last week's Bad Teacher first - at least they were reaching for something.
Tom Hanks plays Larry Crowne a former navy cook, non-college attendee and soon-to-be-fired employee of Umart. He's a simple guy who puts his all into his work. You know because there's an opening shot of him goofing around with his team. He takes pride in his job. We know because he stops to pickup some garbage on the way into work. This is not a film that's going to tax your deep film analysis skills. Then he's laid off in such an insincere mean-spirited way that it feels ridiculous - even for a movie. Due to some BS thing the company says, he decides he needs to go to college. Wherein he meets two women, Roxana Ortega: the beautiful free spirit who takes him under her wing as a non-romantic hipster reconstruction project, and Julia Roberts: the bitter bitter borderline alcoholic teacher of his early morning toast-making class.
Character development you ask? Hanks is going broke fast and downsizing with the financial advice he's picking up from his economics class. Roberts is having some trouble at home from her slacker, porn0watching husband. Things happen, people grow and well, you sorta know where this is all going...
The film did make me laugh at times, but not as often as I was supposed to. At the same time I really didn't buy why the two should get together - except for that fact that they were free and lonely. Well actually only Hanks was free. She was MARRIED! But the husband's a jerk so all is well.
There are definite bright spots in the film, in addition to Roxana Ortega. They include (and are likely limited to)
- An honest, direct exposure of the risks of getting a tattoo in a language you are not fluent in
- George Takei as the economics professor was consistently entertaining.
- Scooter sequences are so compelling that whatever trade consortium funded the film seriously got their money's worth.
Don't even get me started about the quality of instruction in the "class" taught by Julia Roberts. Best I can tell, the morals of the film appears to be that (a) you may be getting an extremely sketchy level of rigor at the local community college (b) you are considerably more likely to meet cool friends and get laid by riding a scooter than I would have guessed. Important life lessons I suppose, even if the film didn't work for me. You'll excuse me while I zip over to Google to start researching where to buy a scooter in Seattle.