Directed by Tom Hanks
Written by Tom Hanks & Nia Vardalos
I must state this now: Tom Hanks is my favorite actor ever, and quite possibly one of my favorite people ever. As such I am certainly a little biased towards the man’s work, though I like to think I like him so much because he is actually just that good, which might be valid because so many others love him as well. Larry Crowne marks Hanks’ first turn in the director’s chair, and the first as screenwriter, since 1995’s That Thing You Do!, a film I actually have not seen. The film also co-stars Julia Roberts, who is another favorite of mine. These two actors are brilliant in my opinion and they do not do as much work as they used to, so when I learned of their collaboration, I was understandably excited. But I tried to keep my expectations low because the film itself did not appear to be anything earth shattering from the previews.
Larry Crowne (Hanks) is a retail sales superstar, but he has one problem: he never went to college. So when his company fires him, he finds himself in need of a college education, so he goes on down to the local community college where, at the behest of the Dean of Students, he takes a speech class taught by Mercy Tainot (Roberts). Tainot is a defeated teacher who is unsure she is making any difference to her students and is in a loveless, frustrated marriage to her husband (Bryan Cranston). But when Crowne enters her life, and she his, they will both make a difference that will change their lives.
I mentioned that my expectations for the film were not overly high because of what the film looked to be about and I was not proven wrong in this assumption, but that does not also mean that I had one of the best experiences of the year in the theater. I guess I’ll start with the bad as somewhat of a disclaimer before I lay praise upon the film. The script, co-written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), is not really that great and there is plenty of cheesy scenario’s and lines throughout. Also, some of the characters are not extremely well written, and the direction by Hanks doesn’t really do anything to add to the film, but all of that is easily trumped by the charm of the film.
The character of Larry Crowne is just a likable guy, much like Hanks in real life, or as a better comparison, like Hanks’ Viktor Navorski in The Terminal. Spending time with him is worth the film experience, but we also get to spend time with Julia Roberts, and their chemistry on screen is like watching lollipops and rainbows. So fun and charming that I can imagine myself watching these two doing garden work and still loving it. And like The Terminal, the film is full of endearing, imperfect characters and plenty of fun interplay between them to make even the smallest jokes and moments hilarious.
This is not a film that I could necessarily readily suggest to everyone I know, as it is small, there are some clunky, cheesy and cliche aspects to the plot. I know some people wouldn’t like it, but I would like to think that I could be friends with those who understand my connection to the style and work of Hanks and Roberts. The rest of the cast is really fun too, especially George Takei, who plays Crowne’s hilarious economics professor Dr. Matsutani. Pam Grier, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson and Wilmer Valderrama also pop up. And the unknown Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Crowne’s charming, manic pixie dream girl, scooter friend Talia. It really is a middling production when it comes to filmmaking, and as such I am sure I will rank plenty of other films higher this year, but when it gets down to it, I know I will come back time and again to this film. There is just way too much fun and charm for it to be forgotten.