Sometimes, you just need a change of pace. Poor Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) has been a faithful employee of Umart (a combination of Target, Walmart and several other mega-corporations) for several years now, earning nine Employee of the Month awards in that time. Unfortunately, the soulless, faceless business entity that regards Larry as a number up and sacks him, stating that there is no room for improvement on his behalf on account of his lack of a college education. Yeah, I call “bullshit,” too; Walmart is notorious for keeping the dumbest people on the planet in their employ for decades.
And so, poor Larry is left sans le job — a lack of service that prompts the decidedly simple divorcee a long-overdue opportunity to enroll in a few college courses. There, Larry meets a variety of people that will — one way or the other — go on to change his life. There’s a perky young lass (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) that belongs in a rather fey motor-scooter club, who takes it upon herself to educate Larry in how to dress and decorate his unkempt home. There’s also a no-nonsense economics professor (the great George Takei, who is a highlight here) with a terrible sense of humor.
Most importantly, though, there’s a certain, cranky and unhappily married teacher with a passion for frozen margaritas (Julia Roberts) whose informal speech class gives Larry that long lost feeling of self-worth. She also stirs up a few other feelings in the guy.
With an ensemble cast filled with a number of recognizable faces (Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Holmes Osborne, Pam Grier, Rob Riggle, et al), Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne — which he co-wrote, co-produced and directed as well — is very much akin to a lot of the former Bosom Buddies star’s earlier works. It’s cute, lighthearted escapism — plain and simple. Anyone looking for something deep, realistic, or even halfway believable will no doubt feel shorted. The story sets out with an average guy that gets hung out to dry, only to overcome it all via a new set of friends and a change of pace.
From a rainy-day kind of feature perspective, Larry Crowne is OK. It’s not a movie that demands much from its audience (other than to stay awake or laugh every now and then, that is). I suppose a lot of the blame — were one looking to dish out some culpability, that is — could be focused in the direction of Nia Vardalos, who wrote the initial draft of the film in 2006, after the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and before people realized that Nia’s movies weren’t all that good once you took a step back and looked at them for the dumb abominations that they really were (see: I Hate Valentine’s Day for more information).
Essentially, Nia’s “jocular that goes for the jugular” approach is in full force here. The movie is riddled with happy people being happy in a happy world of happiness. Even the unhappy people are happy! Now, if that’s the kind of romantic comedy you’re looking for (and I hesitate at calling this a “rom-com,” as the romantic aspects of the movie are kept to the barest of bare minimums), you’re motor-scooter has come in. If you’re looking for some meat with this cheese, however, you’ll probably end up wondering why Tom Hanks didn’t opt for a change of pace by not adding this to his résumé altogether.
Universal’s release of Larry Crowne is much like the movie itself: pleasing, but none too substantial. The video aspect of this 1080p presentation (which preserves the film’s 2.40:1 ratio) is rather solid, but ultimately fails to make an impression that leans towards the “Good” or “Bad” side of the meter. It’s middle-of-the-road, kids. The sound is slightly better, with there being more subtle nuances contained in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack than you’d expect there to be in a run-of-the-mill [romantic] comedy as this. Optional subtitles are provided in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.
A handful of special features accompany this release, and include a couple of deleted scenes, a featurette (which seems more like Electronic Press Kit material), and a behind-the-scenes look at filming. Pretty bland stuff, really.
But then, some will say the exact same thing of the entire movie. Personally, I think it could have been a lot worse: it could have been a solo Nia Vardalos flick, for example. Oh, the unimaginable horror!