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Movie Review: Larry Crowne

A 'Crowne' too small for Hanks
Larry Crowne
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 99 min
Release Date: 2011-07-01
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By "Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

Friends don’t let friends write junk. But in Hollywood, it’s hard to tell your wife’s buddy that what she has written is not a good movie – not a unique, intensely personal story – but a generic compendium of clichés about as fresh as last year’s crop of muskmelons.

This is the case with “Larry Crowne.” Writer Nia Vardalos has languished in well-earned obscurity in the nine years since “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But she’s the close friend of actress Rita Wilson, and Wilson’s married to Tom Hanks. So when Vardalos brought him her script, he agreed to star, direct, co-produce and co-write the project.

Inside this film, a poignant and personal story is struggling to get out. But it’s couched in such awkward sentiments that it can’t emerge: It’s like a layered, nourishing casserole buried under chocolate sauce and vanilla icing.

The part of Larry Crowne, a genial floor manager who gets fired from U-Mart, suits Hanks’ Everyman persona. We sympathize with Larry, even if the rationale for his firing is idiotic: He didn’t go to college, which U-Mart has known for years, and he’s kicked out because he can’t rise higher in the company.

We root for him on his journey to unload a house that’s worth less than he owes on it, to find a job that will cover even the reduced bills he now pays, to re-train himself at a community college for his uncertain future.

Then we enter a fantasy world as unreal as “Avatar.”

Hip, beautiful Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a black student in her 20s, instantly adopts the stodgy white classmate in his 50s, renaming him “Lance Corona” and transforming every aspect of his life from haircut to furniture. (Why is it that behavior we would find pushy and obnoxious in a plain girl is assumed to be acceptable if she’s cute?)

His speech teacher, Mercy Tainot (Julia Roberts), turns out to be a gorgeous burnout with a porn-obsessed, verbally abusive, unwashed husband. She seeks inspiration from just one student and romance from someone who appreciates her humor and intelligence. Wait a minute: Could Larry be that guy?

The movie stops short of finding Larry a corporate job that makes him rich. But except for one or two scenes of puppyish wistfulness, mostly when Larry gets turned down for work or has to leave his neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson), nothing gets him down much.

Fear, depression and anxiety are emotions too raw and troubling to find their way into this narrative. Instead, cornball joke follows joke.

Shot No. 1: Larry hands Mercy a helmet to wear when she climbs aboard his scooter. Mercy: “I’m not gonna wear any bucket on my head!”

Shot No. 2: Mercy, wearing the helmet and looking glum.

When a student anticipates what Mercy will say, she snaps, “Are you clairvoyant?”

“No,” he answers. “I’m Steve DiBiase!” Get it? He thought she asked if he was Claire Voyant! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Roberts, who has no personal stake in this material, alternates between a bored frown and a toothy smile. Hanks, who does, tries hard to round out an unfleshed character. He’ll be 55 next week, an age when fewer and fewer leading roles will come his way. So it’s sad to see him spend one of them on frippery such as “Larry Crowne.”

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6/30/2011 - The Charlotte Observer - Lawrence Toppman

The star-director puts his all into a project whose silly screenplay keeps it from making the impression it could.

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