Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
Tom Hanks … Larry Crowne
Julia Roberts … Mercedes Tainot
Taraji P. Henson
Cedric the Entertainer … Lamar
George Takei … Ed Matsutani
Bryan Cranston … Dean
Nia Vardalos (voice)
Rami Malek … Steve Dibiasi
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The famous hymn, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” applies only to the Lord Jesus and would certainly not apply to “Larry Crowne.” Although, in this story, the likeable character, Larry Crowne, created and played by Tom Hanks, does repeatedly receive the “employee of the month” award and enjoys his coffee in a mug with a golden crown decal. That’s about as close as it gets.
The screenplay and film is written and directed by Hanks himself, but even the star power of this two-time Oscar® winner, along with his one-time Oscar® winner co-star, Julia Roberts (Mercedes Tainot), aren’t enough to make this film shine past the “fluff” mark, despite their combined-enormous-box-office-successes of the past.
For those that may choose to see this romantic comedy, before it comes out on DVD or is available for streaming (I would recommend waiting for it), let me say that you’ve seen this movie before. Predictable would be an understatement. It has a “Sleepless in Seattle” or “When Harry Met Sally” sort of feel, but with the updated plot point (recent economy) of someone being out of a job due to company down-sizing, as in “The Company Men.” Now take the film down a notch or two, almost to the level of a pilot for a TV comedy series about a community college communications course with Julia Roberts as Mrs. Tainot, the teacher, and you’d be right there with “Larry Crowne.”
If you’ve seen the trailer, you pretty much know the plot line—a place for me to express my dismay as a reviewer at this increasingly frustrating practice by film producers in Hollywood.
Larry Crowne, a middle-aged nobody, working in sales for a big-name-retail-giant has a surprising turn of events in his life. He’s lost his job and is forced to reinvent himself. He starts by going to community college. I say “starts,” because he’s never been to college before—having gone directly from Navy cook to this retail giant (where he’d been crowned employee of the month 8 times) before finally being “canned” in the opening scenes.
Apparently not successful at marriage, alone, and buried in debt, he tries to make the best of it. What he didn’t expect was getting a “mid-life crush” on his communication teacher at the college, an unhappily married woman (Roberts), who often starts her day with an alcoholic slush. What she didn’t expect was, well, you can figure it out. Throw in a fun performance from George Takei (Sulu from “Star Trek”) who played Hanks’ Economics professor, Dr. Matsutani, as well as a stand-out performance by young TV star Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Undercovers”), and you have all the trappings of a traditional romantic comedy.
The movie is rated PG-13 for some language, drinking, and adult themes, although, I must say up front, this movie is fairly tame, and it appears like they added these items to the script to get the rating moved from “G.” That’s not to say it doesn’t earn the mark it received, it’s merely an observation. I counted only one use of the “f” word (…ing-variation) which appears awkwardly portrayed and doesn’t seem to fit the character of Mrs. Tainot when she says it aloud in the film. There are two uses of the word “b*tch” and a few sundry “d” words. If there is any profanity, it slipped past me. Roberts’s self-medication with blended bourbon drinks is somewhat distracting and emphasized in the film for comedic effects.
There is a preoccupation in the script with Mrs. Tainot’s, stay-at-home, writer-husband looking at porn, and him being obsessed with well-endowed women, although most of that is inferred. There is one shot of him clicking off a computer site with a woman in a bikini, but no nudity. Hanks appears in his underwear (backside) in one scene (seen in the trailer), and there are a couple of close-ups of Gugu’s lower back—zooming in on her Chinese tattoos. Other than two shots of Hanks and Robert’s kissing outside their respective apartment doors, there are no other sex or related sex scenes.
Finally, while it is clear that Mrs. Tainot finally threw her husband out, it’s not certain that they were ever divorced, and certainly not when she kisses Hanks the first time—pushing the limits of faithfulness to one’s spouse beyond scriptural guidelines. Of course, this script doesn’t pretend to be trying to adhere to any such boundaries. It is what it is, a romantic comedy, from a secular world-view, playing to an audience of the same.
To his credit, there is a lot of thoughtfulness to Hank’s script. It appears to be an attempt to return to the old-fashioned love story, or at least the ones that Hanks made popular in the 80’s. The classroom scenes in the speech class are funny, well-written and quite frankly are a great set up for a return to an updated TV series version of “Room 222” or a similar program in this genre. The climax of the film, also taking place in the classroom, is almost worth the wait, and does cause the eyes to moisten a bit, but not like “Dead Poets Society.”
It’s what this film is not about that I found the most engaging. That given adverse circumstances, the human spirit is capable of so much more, if only they would chose to learn in those situations. Even a speech class (public speaking being the number one fear among humans), can be a tool for conquering ones’ fears and moving forward in life. “Perfect Love casts out all fear,” 1 John 4:18 comes to mind. Too bad there isn’t even a miniscule reference to the Creator of love Himself, somewhere in the movie—rather than the veiled allusion to one in the form of Tai Chi.
This past 4th of July weekend came and went with lots of fireworks around the country. Unfortunately, there were only a few sparks for this film’s opening weekend. As romantic comedies go, it is a sweet film, in a cotton-candy-kind-of-way. But just like that fluffy sugar in my mouth, it was pretty much gone by the time I left the carnival, I mean theater.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.