Monday, July 11, 2011

Film Review | Larry Crowne

Happy Days

by Thomas Delapa

As cine-therapy during the Great Depression, Hollywood gave us The Grapes of Wrath, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Dead End. During the Great Recession, Hollywood has bestowed on us...envelope please...Larry Crowne?

If you want to see how depressingly out-of-touch mainstream movies have become, buy a ticket (if you can afford one) to watch Tom Hanks show us the sunny, funny side of unemployment. If life is like a box of chocolates, director/star Hanks tells us that getting fired can ultimately be a sweetheart deal.

As titular everyman Larry Crowne, big-box retail clerk, Hanks earns a pink slip from his smarmy supervisors, ostensibly because of his lack of a college degree. Recently divorced and now downsized, Larry pauses only briefly before he goes to work reinventing himself, usually accompanied by a soundtrack of bouncy, optimistic Tom Petty songs.

Hanks and co-writer Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame and fortune) tick off a litany of topical problems that Larry overcomes as easily as Forrest Gump jumping over shrubs. Big, gas-guzzling SUV? Just trade it in for a cute motor scooter. Too much stuff around the house? Just sell it to a haggling but helpful neighbor. Can’t afford the house? Just give it back to the bank, no questions asked. As for income, we never see Larry waiting in line at the unemployment office or stressing about bills. In short order, he gets a job as a cook at a friend’s diner. Yep, Larry pulls himself up by his bootstraps, enrolling at a local L.A. college where overqualified instructors teach a generation of underachieving students.

“Times are tough” says Larry in his Tom Joad moment, but they’re about to get a lot easier, at least for him. At the college he’s promptly taken under the wing of a pretty young student (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who teaches him to text in class. She also treats him to a hip makeover, accessorized with trendy glasses. But Larry really scores when he signs up for a speech class taught by Miss Tainot (Julia Roberts), a smoldering burnout married to a porn-addicted blogger. Roberts, still flashing that A-list smile and those million-dollar legs, struts in to help turn this big-screen sitcom into a remedial version of Welcome Back, Kotter.

For Hanks and Roberts—crowned with three best-acting Oscars between them—Larry Crowne must have been a lark, not even a job, since neither shows an inclination to do any real acting. Tanned and puffy-faced, Hanks has especially regressed; he’s so dull and uninvolved, right now he’d have a hard time passing muster in his old Bosom Buddies role.

In this cloying, sub-sophomoric movie, no child is left behind, not even Larry’s fatuous classmates who are magically transformed by Miss Tainot’s inscrutable classroom skills. The audience never learns how Larry’s college experience will help him find a good-paying job, but that’s academic. As long as he makes the grade with his hot teacher, life will work out fine and he’ll graduate into his reborn American dream.



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