I can just imagine what it was like the day Tom Hanks (Cast Away) decided to make Larry Crowne, his latest directorial effort about a man who loses his job at a local department store and goes back to school. He and his co-writer Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) were probably on the terrace of a ridiculously expensive Hollywood mansion with Hanks’ wife (and Larry Crowne featured actor) Rita Wilson (Sleepless in Seattle) as they discussed writing a movie together. Maybe they wanted it to be sweet and funny and Tom could co-star with his good friend Julia Roberts. Oh, but it would have to be “relatable” to “common folk” so maybe the main character can be the victim of the GFC and upper-class company goons. Also they’re scared of bloggers, so there’s a big anti-internet subplot that goes nowhere!
For the first 30 minutes it is ridiculous watching Hanks, a multi-millionaire who helped finance this movie out of his own pocket, discuss how real Americans are doing it tough with foreclosures and job losses. However, don’t mistake my cynicism towards the curious motivations of its creators for dislike of the movie itself. Larry Crowne is actually a surprisingly charming romantic comedy. Sure, “charming” is hardly difficult for Hanks and Roberts, but in an age where rom-coms are frequently becoming more about shrill dimwits played by Kate Hudson without real human emotions, charm sure can go a long way to making a movie enjoyable.
Hanks’ dorky routine – right on through to the ridiculous ELO-soundtracked end credits as he and Roberts drives around on a scooter in front of a green screen – is thankfully not as draining as one may assume. And there are moments between Hanks and co-stars Julia Roberts and especially the gorgeous Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as a fellow student with a desire to turn Larry into a middle-aged hipster, which are genuinely sweet and funny.
Thankfully there is one character, Julia Roberts’ Mercedes Tainot, that is alarmingly unconventional and breaks up the rather rote narrative that Hanks developed. Roberts’ Mercedes is actually a rather unlikeable character; a bitter and frequently drunk woman with a lousy husband (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) whose depression threatens to sink Larry Crowne into far darker territory than expected. While it never becomes a Leaving Las Vegas for the education set, Roberts’ brittle somewhat against type performance saves Larry Crowne from mere passable mediocrity. There’s a startling frankness to the performance with her vocal deliveries dotted with an acidic tartness. Roberts, and the breath of fresh air Mbatha-Raw, save Larry Crowne and help turn it into a humourous, if weirdly balanced, change of rom-com pace.
I could’ve done without seeing Hanks’ arse in a pair of tighty-whiteys. That was just unnecessary.
Larry Crowne is released on July 21st
Director: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Bryan Cranston,
Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P Henson,Pam Grier, Rami Malek, Malcolm Barrett, Grace Gummer,
Maria Canals-Barrera and Rita Wilson