Larry Crowne

a film by Tom Hanks

Take two of the most insufferable (but still talented) Hollywood stars in recent history, have one of them direct while chewing up the screen with his affably wholesome white bread mannerisms and eternal optimism, and the other scowl about in uncharacteristic mode, while periodically spewing forth the typically toothiest of guffaws, and have all of these cutesy-pie (and oh how cutesy-pie they do get!) romantic comedy antics co-written by that equally insufferable (but not necessarily talented) harpy that gave us that inexplicably popular Big Fat Stoopid Greek Wedding, and then put it all together in the squarest of square packages, tied together with formulaic ribbons of practically perfect confectionaries, and you pretty much have the idea of what you are going to get with the Tom Hanks directed vehicle Larry Crowne, starring Hanks and Julia Roberts and written by Hanks and Nia Verdalos. Yikes.

Then again, as insufferably cutesy-pie as it may very well be (and it is!), it's not that bad of a movie - all things considered. Certainly not a candidate for any greatest rom-com list (let's not get carried away kids) it is nonetheless a much less insufferable film than one would anticipate and/or expect. Looking at the film from a purely entertainment level, Larry Crowne is at worst, a suitably contrite but well-meaning trifle and at best, a suitably contrite but well-meaning trifle. In other words it is a middle-of-the-road (read: squaresville man), mainstreamy kinda movie that just so happens to play well at such middling coordinates. Of course such lackluster praise amounts to nothing shy of a rather backhanded, or even back door compliment, but it is the best one can muster when one is confronted with such a motion picture as Larry Crowne. But seriously, contrary to many of my critical compatriots opines, it ain't half bad. Of course it ain't half good either.

What Larry Crowne (and that's Crowne with an e as we learn on numerous occasions throughout the film) amounts to is the most old-fashioned of love stories - something we would see in the much more innocent cinematic days of Hollywood in the late 1930's or 1940's. No vulgarisms. No dick jokes. No bathroom humour. Just a sweet, old school romantic comedy (complete with the bashing of modern media such as blogging and texting). Of course this may just be part of Hanks' inability to be sharp or edgy or "with it" (even in roles that somewhat verge on edgy, such as Road to Perdition or Philadelphia) - but none of this is necessarily as bad a thing as many claim it to be. Hanks other attempt at directing, the equally cutesy-pie That Thing You Do!, is just as knowingly (winkingly even) square as Larry Crowne, and it worked as a charming piece of white bread nostalgia just as much as this film works as a charming piece of banana bread suburbia.

Granted, the film does suffer a lot from such self-referentially charming antics (even the scooter gang Larry joins is as non-threatening as can be - the wild ones as antiquers and Feng Shui experts!?) and its typically treacly finale, as well as from Hanks' inability to give the film even the slightest edge (those aforementioned films of the 30's and 40's at least had the likes of a Lubitsch or a Capra or a Sturges or a Wilder), and the old school je ne sais quoi only goes so far before that nagging anticipatory insufferability starts to creep back into the equation and we are left with a bad case of the fair-to-middling feelies. Still though, as far as mainstream rom-coms featuring the square-to-middling Hanks and Roberts, well past the age where cute works well, you aren't going to get much better than Larry Crowne. Again it is quite the backhanded compliment, but as I said before, it is the best one can muster when one is confronted with such a motion picture as Larry Crowne. [07/06/11]