Have you ever met someone so “nice” and inoffensive that they lack any charisma? Larry Crowne is a film like such people. It strives to be a pleasant, “nice”, and inoffensive romantic comedy – in that it succeeds; but as a result, it lacks any drive or purpose and seems to wallow in blandness. The most famous man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, warned about salt losing its flavor. It does no harm to the tongue and does not fester in a wound, but what good is it? Here is a film that does no harm whatsoever. It has no agenda, it passes no judgment – it’s also quite forgettable and boring.
Larry Crowne was written and directed by Tom Hanks. It of course stars Tom Hanks as the title character, a retail clerk whose biggest achievements in life are travelling around the world with the Navy and earning employee of the month eight times in a row (as Darth Vader would say: “Impressive . . . most impressive”). One problem: he never went to college. The UMart at which he works decides that for this reason, their best employee has to go. So Larry Crowne goes to school. The first class he takes is Speech 217 and lo and behold his teacher is Julia Roberts, whose husband is a childish, porn-surfing, misogynistic ignoramus. You know, this movie has a lot of funny bits in it. Tom Hanks’s personality is so nice that it’s hard not to laugh, and the rest of the characters are pretty funny. Still, the laughs are mostly just light chuckles and amused smiles. Of course humor comes from people acting normally in funny situations, not people acting funny in normal situations. In the more far-fetched scenes, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are both pretty enjoyable, but in the every day scenes they are overly ordinary.
I think this picture is sort of like solo chicken. It has taste and goes down well, but if ever there were a more mild food it would induce spontaneous slumber. Trust me, there are better ways to spend an afternoon than listening to Tom Hanks say “Spectackalar!” – sounds like one of Fred Willard’s catch phrases from A Mighty Wind. This whole movie could be the first thirty minutes of a good romantic comedy. Instead, it’s an hour and forty minutes of prologue. As such it lacks direction. The romance between Hanks and Roberts takes so long to develop that I kept wondering where the movie was going. Is it going to be about Larry Crowne reinventing his life? Is it a social commentary about education and bad economy? Is it about a harmless marshmallow man learning to live life to its fullest? Who knows. I will say that Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Larry’s classmate and scooter buddy is quite a find. She shines and steals every scene she’s in. She’s like the Japanese rising sun. A big red DOT in a sea of monotone white. Cedric the Entertainer is in this and Taraji P. Henson. These are good, solid, funny actors. It’s a case of too much of a good thing. A clean desk is a good thing, but if there’s no dirt to compare it to, it gets mighty boring.
On the other hand, it’s a benevolent picture with cute characters and some scenes that make you smile. However, it’s to strong points are more often than not weaknesses. And (here I go saying this again) on the technical side, the music is intrusive and distracting. It’s mostly a singles soundtrack, not a motion picture score, and it does detract from the images. In a visual medium, you don’t need music blaring in your ear every time someone drives to work. Anyway, as I said before, Larry Crowne is a harmless picture, but its about as engaging as wet construction paper and as interesting as John McCain. Take it or leave it. It won’t add anything to your life.
Universal Pictures Presents a Playtone Production
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson. Directed by Tom Hanks.