Larry Crowne

Reviewed By Daniel Kelly
Posted 07/03/11 01:01:40

"Billy Madison" the Hanks way."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Nobody will argue that “Larry Crowne” is anything more than simple, undemanding popcorn entertainment. However given the current uninspired crop of summer releases the film will find itself in competition with this weekend (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Green Lantern” but to name a few), audiences should be encouraged to cough up their cash for this charmer over such CGI-addled monstrosities. “Larry Crowne” marks the return of Tom Hanks as a director (his sole previous credit being 1996’s “That Thing You Do!”), the acting superstar also taking writing and leading man duties. It’s a fairly standard picture in most respects, but “Larry Crowne” at least bothers to provide us with characters we care about, allowing viewers to become invested within the ordinary but unquestionably likeable narrative.

After being fired from a supermarket due to his lack of higher education, Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) decides to enroll at the local community college as a mature student. Selecting a speech and communication class taught by the unhappy Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), Larry adapts to his new lifestyle swimmingly, befriending a free spirited young woman named Talia (an adorable Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in the process As the term progresses, Talia helps Larry uncover his true potential, encouraging him to funk up his wardrobe and join her goofy scooter gang. Larry also begins to bond with Mercedes, the latter welcoming such a gentlemanly change from her grouchy marital homestead.

Hanks and Roberts give relaxed but naturalistic leading turns, both now certified veterans within this field of comfy comedy. None of the characters in “Larry Crowne” are hugely memorable, but Hanks does a grand job of making them engaging. In the title role Hanks is his usual warm, sharp and good-natured self, bumbling his way through the picture with confidence and charisma. His chemistry with Julia Roberts is low-key but viable, the actress treading familiar career paces with an equal degree of success. The romance at the heart of “Larry Crowne” is well realized; simplistic but with a hefty dosage of human appeal. “Larry Crowne” is low on original ideas, but it sells all of its conventional facets with sincerity and soul.

The screenplay courtesy of Hanks and Nia Vardalos (she of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame) is vibrant, offering a nice line in background characters. Cedric the Entertainer is good value as Larry’s thrifty but honest buddy, whilst George Takei scores several delightful chuckles in the form of a self-satisfied but oddly appealing economics professor. With the exception of Mercedes’ horny husband (an underused Bryan Cranston) every screen entity on show is at least halfway endearing, a bonus that helps disguise the formulaic storytelling on display. The film also provides at least a dozen chuckles, Hanks and Vardalos cooking up some cute and tasteful jokes for your amusement.

From a technical standpoint Hanks conducts himself acceptably, lathering the film with a fluffy visual polish. Hanks also measures the movie’s quirkier elements sensibly, managing to find the line between enchanting and irritating with refreshing consistency. It’s definitely fun watching Larry and Talia hurtle around on scooters and giving each other nicknames, but had “Larry Crowne” become fixated with this sort of malarkey then it would have devolved into nonsense. Instead the picture only uses these offbeat detours for added spark, Hanks keeping his primary focus on Larry and Mercedes.

The feature concludes predictably, but at a modest 99 minutes at least has the decency to maintain an agreeable pace. I’m sure the generic plot developments and lack of cynicism will cause some to scoff, but in this season of digital excess “Larry Crowne” still feels like a winner.

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