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Entries in Larry Crowne [2011] (1)

Friday
Jan062012

Larry Crowne (2011)

Cancelling the Man Show

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences found that male testosterone levels drop significantly at the onset of fatherhood. I love this study. It's the only thing that validates my affection for Larry Crowne.

Don't be concerned. It's a mild affection, and my brain--unlike my heart--understands that this is a bad movie. It's got Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts playing a laid-off big-box store supervisor and a community-college professor, respectively--indicating that we've landed firmly in a Tolkien-esque version of modern suburbia. The characters are mostly bubbly and good-natured, and their biggest hurdles are giving stirring speeches and leaving cartoon-character spouses. I should hate this movie, but thanks to a scientifically proven softening of my rough-and-tumble instincts, I was able to enjoy the cinematic equivalent of a Saturday trip to Macy's and World Market, with an Olive Garden lunch in between.

After losing his job for not having a degree, Larry Crowne (Hanks) enrolls in his local college. His speech teacher is Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), a frustrated lifer who prays every morning for a low enough head-count to cancel the day's lesson. She sees Larry as just another face in a sea of social misfits with dwindling attention spans. Worse yet, she's married to an Internet-porn-obsessed, jobless blogger (Bryan Cranston) who claims his wife's prudishness is keeping him from being a real man.

I guarantee you can figure out the rest from here. Hanks, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Nia Vardalos, plays everything cute and harmlessly stereotypical. Larry's neighbor is a stingy black man (Cedric the Entertainer) who runs a year-round yard sale; his economics professor is a stern Asian gentleman (George Takei) who thinks he's funnier than he is; and the leader of the school's scooter gang (you read that correctly) is a tough-looking Latin kid (Wilmer Valderrama) who turns out to be a macho sweetie. Given the painfully unfunny ethnic humor in Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it should surprise no one that Larry Crowne plays like a Sesame Street for scared, white suburbanites--showcasing diversity while subtly reinforcing tired cultural memes.

But it's all so damned cozy! The eighteen-year-old version of myself would have broken the television way before act three. But there's something very real and comforting about steamy bowls of store-brand oatmeal like this that only adults of a certain age and level of experience can appreciate. My brain and stomach wanted to vomit when Larry did the "happy dance" outside of Mercedes' apartment door, following their first kiss (SPOILER!); my heart, though, just said, "Awww." When Larry's scooter-gang friends, prompted by the adorable Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), invaded his home to give the living room a feng shui makeover, I wished I'd had an army of hip, earnest go-getters at my disposal.

So I can recommend this movie to myself. Is there anything in it for you? Maybe. If you hate Julia Roberts, you may warm up to her here. Unlike Hanks, she has a decent stretch of believability in the middle of the film (which ends abruptly at the kissing scene, after which she becomes Rom-Com Roberts with Giggle Action). Though we're given no substantive history about her failing marriage, it's nice to see her spar with Cranston and then shuffle hesitantly into class to deal with a different brand of emotional distance.

I also love Hanks' directing--for all the wrong reasons. Just as he's become too big a Hollywood icon for audiences to see him as anything other than TOM HANKS, his attempts at innovating with the camera draw unwanted attention to themselves. Consider an early scene where Larry pulls his minivan into the driveway. The camera is mounted to the fender for a cool pseudo-fish-eye shot. But it wobbles just so, giving the jolting impression that we've momentarily cut to one of the characters in the movie shooting a first-person account of a minivan pulling into a driveway.

If Larry Crowne's premise sounds at all interesting to you, I suggest skipping this movie and indulging in a marathon of NBC's Community, followed by Morgan Mead's My Name is Jerry. These genre-bending, out-of-the-box comedies explore mid-life crises and low-cost higher education in challenging ways that would likely never occur to Hanks and Vardalos. They're also hilarious and touching, and should be viewed well in advance of fatherhood.