Friday, July 1, 2011

“Larry Crowne” – The anti-Transformers.

If you are looking for a summer blockbuster or even a generic popcorn flick, Larry Crowne is the wrong movie for you. If you are looking to score points with a wife or girlfriend or any date for that matter, this is the movie for you. Larry Crowne has the misfortune of opening on the fourth of July, opposite Transformers 3 and is exactly the opposite of Transformers 3 in nearly every way possible, including future gross revenue. As of this writing, Transformers 3 has been opened for less than two days and has probably already taken in more than Larry Crowne will ever see ($80 million worldwide). While Transformers 3 is the epitome of a summer blockbuster, Larry Crowne features a smart script, good acting, and the closest thing to an explosion you will see is Larry falling over on a scooter.

As the writer, director, and star (as Larry), Tom Hanks delivers a film that feels much like That Thing You Do!, the last movie he directed and wrote. In addition to Hanks, Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) co-wrote the screenplay, so it was a foregone conclusion that this movie would be an upbeat romantic comedy, with very little tension.

The movie begins with Larry getting fired from his job from a big box store, subtly named UMart, because he doesn’t have a college degree. Since Larry is a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and apparently lost his testicles in a past divorce, he doesn’t sue UMart for discrimination even though he has been their employee of the month eight times. After receiving the most unnecessary (and possibly contractually required) racial commentary in the history of film from his neighbor, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), Larry enrolls in the local college to gain that college education that really won’t matter in the grand scheme of things (more on this in a minute). I have no idea why Cedric felt the need to complain about white people when this movie has absolutely no connection to racial issues whatsoever, but I’m certain it wasn’t part of the script.

Anyway, Larry meets a “free spirit” in Talia, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, an actress whose name I did not make up. Talia spends most of the movie making over Larry – clothes, hair, watch, house décor – but also being his friend and including him in her motor scooter gang. She is also the proof that a college degree doesn’t mean much, as she eventually opens her own store sans college degree. I’m sure this idea is scary to you parents out there, but it’s sadly becoming very much the truth, portraying the decaying and expensive system that comprises our colleges and universities. Further proving this point is Marcy Tainot (Julia Roberts), a speaking and literature professor at the college whose days revolve around drinking heavily and fighting with her husband (Bryan Cranston) about his ratio of professional writing to viewing porn on the Internet. Marcy and Larry cross paths as teacher and student in her speech class and now you have the romantic piece of this film.

The comedic piece comes in the form of the supporting cast, mostly from the other students/misfits in Marci’s class. Along with Talia and her boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama), they take this movie to a much higher level of enjoyment. From the stoned kid and lacrosse girl classmates, the marital fights of the Tainots, the goofy economics teacher (George Takei), and Larry’s constant good-humored attitude, you remember how refreshing it is to watch a movie that isn’t trying to destroy your organs with sound and relish in a true depiction of what it means to be a supporting cast member. They don’t overshadow Hanks, but instead, allow him to feed off them and create an enjoyable main character.

With the exception of the unnecessary neighbor, the film is a very good piece of writing and storytelling and a nice break from the standard summer release. The movie tackles the serious problems of unemployment and foreclosure without depressing you to the point of wanting to put a gun in your mouth. It’s lighthearted and innocent and your date will be a success. You can thank me in the morning.

Rating: Unless you believe all summer releases should include at least one explosion, don’t ask for any money back.

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