In Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks plays the title character, an affable, middle-aged floor manager at a big box department store who loses his job because he never went to college. Lacking a secondary income source (his wife divorced him a few years prior) and underwater on his mortgage, he sets out to find new employment, but is met with universal rejection. If any of these developments affect him in any significant way, you can scarcely tell from his countenance: A plaintive drive home and the occasional watering of the eyes are the only indications of any kind of turmoil within.
All of which hints that Larry Crowne, which Hanks also directed and co-wrote (with Nia Vardalos), might be one of those films in which a repressed and emotionally stunted individual gradually comes to face the pain he's buried, enjoys an epiphany or two, and lets go of it all in a grand (and presumably Oscar-worthy) catharsis. (That, or he shoots up a Dairy Queen.) Only it isn't. It's a breezy, genial comedy about a guy who enrolls in a community college, joins a crew of scooter-riders, and hits it off with his speech teacher.
The teacher, Mercedes (Julia Roberts), is everything Larry isn't: dry, cynical, tired. She's lost her passion for education, and is mired in a poisonous marriage with a noxious layabout (Bryan Cranston), whose novel-writing efforts are really just a cover for an internet porn obsession. There's no reason the two should connect romantically, other than the fact that he's Tom Hanks and she's Julia Roberts. This appraisal might as well extend to the film as a whole, which skates by lazily on the charm and charisma of its two stars, never deigning to proffer anything more substantial than their adorable mugs.
Among a rote and forgettable assemblage of supporting characters, the only one who manages to register at all is Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a coquettish, free-spirited fellow-student who makes Larry her personal project, re-arranging his living room, upgrading his wardrobe, and coaxing him to be more adventurous. Why she bothers to do any of this is never explained. Is she luring him into a shady business scheme? Is she the recruiter for an apocalyptic cult? An insatiable schlub fetish, perhaps? Without any discernible motive, we're left to assume that she takes to him simply because he's Tom Hanks. I mean, who wouldn't want to ride scooters with Tom Hanks? (I'll tell you who: Al Qaida.)
Larry Crowne is a film I desperately wanted to like. Certainly its central message of perseverance and optimism in the face of hardship is a noble one. But aside from its two stars, a few laughs, and a handful of endearing moments, there's precious little to it. By the end of the film, I felt like I barely knew any of these people, despite having spent the last 90 minutes with them. Nor did I particularly want to know them. Except for Tom and Julia, of course. Aren't they just wonderful?
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Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.