Nine time employee-of-the-month lower level manager Larry is sucker-punched when he's called into the break room and informed that he is 'parting ways' with U-Mart, the store where he has worked since leaving the Navy after twenty years. Told that he has nowhere to go because of his lack of a college education, Larry turns to East Valley Community College for courses in Economics and Speaking, the latter of which will introduce him to Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), the course's cynical, jaded teacher who just might learn something from "Larry Crowne."
Cowriter (with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos)/director/star Tom Hanks is famously a nice guy and his second movie is so nice that it resembles no reality know to anyone, but, perhaps, Hanks who can afford to cocoon himself in his own nice little world. This toothless romantic comedy is sweet and it has its moments, but its demands on suspension of disbelief eventually crush it.
In a weird parallel with the far more realistically bleak "Everything Must Go," Larry's neighbors Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) and B'Ella (Taraji P. Henson) run a perpetual yard sale, to which Larry adds his things when he discovers his house isn't worth his mortgage (courtesy of Hanks' wife Rita Wilson in a horrible blond dye job). He also finds a scooter for sale and takes it up for economic reasons. So it makes perfect sense that on his first day of school he'll be taken under the wing of hot chick Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, TV's 'Undercovers'), a fellow scooter enthusiast who indoctrinates him into The Street Patrol scooter gang despite the suspicions of her boyfriend Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama, because clearly every studly Latino in L.A. desires to head up a Vespa squad). She's not in his 'The Art of Informal Remarks' class, but a 'Community' cast of characters, like dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks Steve Dibiasi (Rami Malek, HBo's 'The Pacific'), nervous Nelly Lala Pinedo (Maria Canals-Barrera), hip-hoppy motor-mouth Dave Mack (Malcolm Barrett) and cheerleader Natalie Calimeris (Grace Gummer) are. They even have their own version of Ken Leong in George Takei's Economics professor Dr. Matsutani and a nerdy dean of students who loves Tai Chi.
Miss Tainot, who drowns her sorrows every night because of her no-account husband Dean (Bryan Cranston) who claims to be a writer but spends his days surfing porn, isn't thrilled with her class's 8 a.m. start time and leaps at the chance to cancel it when only nine students show for her ten minimum, but Larry's arrival seals the deal. Larry's first talk, on how to make French Toast, doesn't however. Luckily for him, Talia spots their teacher drunk at a bus stop one night while the Street Patrol's cruising. Larry offers her a ride and she offers him a whole lot more. Larry does the right thing, of course.
Nothing is real in Larry Crowne world. Even his movie-starting firing is a head scratcher, as it makes little sense that a company would fire the man who is obviously single-handedly responsible for employee morale. Why would a woman of Roberts' looks be married to a guy who thinks she's flat-chested and is a boor to boot and why would she become peeved because she thinks her Forrest Gumpish student is dating a younger classmate? Why would the affectionate B'Ella allow her husband to try and gouge a friend in need? Repeatedly. Why would Talia take Larry so completely in hand, remaking his wardrobe, cleaning out his house and dubbing him Lance Corona? Why does everyone land so easily on his or her feet?
Clearly Hanks is promoting an optimistic viewpoint, a 'when life hands you lemons make lemonade' philosophy, but outside of his world the good guy doesn't always get the job from a friend, the lead on a new place to live or the gorgeous girl. The film is naive to a fault. Still, it's that open innocence that makes Roberts cranky outlook comical and Takei's weird sense of humor work.
"Larry Crowne" isn't unlikable, far from it, but it sure has a weird worldview. Next time, Hanks needs a writing partner with a darker edge.
Robin did not see this film.
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