Tom Hanks does everything in Larry Crowne, producing, writing, directing and starring in the film. But has he bitten off more than he can chew. Unfortunately – yes.
Tom Hanks takes on the quadruple role of acting, writing, producing and directing Larry Crowne, a film about a down-on-his-luck ex-Navy cook who finds a new lease of life at college following the loss of his job at a local supermarket. Co-starring the ravishing Julia Roberts – who appears to be getting better looking with age – Hanks’ Larry Crowne enrols in the local community college after struggling to find a new job. There he meets a pretty young student who encourages him to get a new wardrobe and modernise his appearance, while he joins her gang of fellow scooter riders for fun on two wheels instead of four. He also meets unhappily married teacher Mercedes (Roberts), who is disenchanted with her job and becoming distanced from work-at-home husband.
I was very much looking forward to seeing Hanks’ second film as director after the entertaining That Thing You Do. It is therefore disappointing to reveal just what a painful experience it was watching Larry Crowne. It is a film that stinks of the worst attributes of Hollywood – and perhaps a successful celebrity out of tune with the type of character he’s trying to portray. The film skulks on to the screen like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the promise of delicious sweets too enticing to refuse, only to induce impenetrable misery due to its truly horrible conventionality and miss-judged intentions. Larry Crowne is a film made by people more in tune with fiction than life (but completely lacking the energy of fellow cinema-lover-turned-film-revivalist Quentin Tarantino) that is genuinely hurtful due to the fact it can’t even get the thing it excels at right. The film is so at odds with what it is trying to achieve, it fails to entertain even at the most basic level. As a huge fan of Tom Hanks’ work it pains me to say that Larry Crowne is possibly the great man’s worst film of all time.
Admittedly, Julia Roberts looks fantastic in the film, but her character is horrid. It’s hardly her fault as she has to contend with a woman that suffers from an emotional paradox, her state of mind a disconcerting dead end for the audience and probably the sign of script rewrites ultimately leading to an uneven, artificially unpredictable character. One terrible scene has her acting the authority figure when Larry, her student, offers to give her a ride home after she is stranded at a bus stop. She is at first a tad condescending and sarcastic, leading to a fairly blank, almost miserable and wholly embarrassed look on her face during the drive home. Then, for some unexplained reason, when they arrive at her house she is drunk – I suppose fresh air and a ride on a scooter can do that to you – and she becomes a giddy, horny girl-about-town, inviting Larry to kiss her and obviously envisioning much more. It is a forced turn of events, only ringing true in the sense that it is in keeping with the film’s complete lack of honesty. Hanks makes the scene even more forgettable with a mawkish congratulatory salute to Larry’s gentlemanly conduct.
Perhaps most damning is that the film clearly tries to be contemporary in this age of economic gloom – Larry loses his job and can’t keep up the payments on his mortgage – as if it wants to speak to the common man (or woman). Then it betrays all this with its overt Hollywoodism – the most unlikely of romantic partnerships, hideous layers of schmaltz, artificial character development and dubious plot logic. This is in addition to the cartoonish college acquaintance Larry meets on his first day. Played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, her turn as Scooter-riding, cultured know-it-all Talia, is the first person since George Lucas unleashed The Phantom Menace in 1999 to genuinely rival Jar Jar Binks as the most annoying character ever committed to celluloid.
Ultimately, because of its faults, Larry Crowne fails to be fun even when it might threaten to raise a smile on your face. Tom Hanks’ wife is a delight in a small role as a money adviser at the local bank but she only has a couple of scenes. Tom Hanks himself is always likable but he shows none of the comedic energy witnessed in Steven Spielberg’s underrated The Terminal, and perhaps the added pressure of his multiple role as producer, director, writer and star takes it toll. In Larry Crowne it feels too much like he’s playing a character, not a real person and that betrays the sensibilities of the film. Unfortunately, although Julia Roberts looks fantastic, her roll-out-of-bed-into-make-up-say-lines-go-home performance only highlights how good she can be when she really tries (Erin Brockovich, for example).
I’m a huge fan of Tom Hanks which makes Larry Crowne an even bigger disappointment. He maybe great at producing films, or starring in them, or even directing them, but perhaps, given the true awfulness of this film, he should steer clear of doing them all at the same time.