Tom Hanks has pretty much made a career out of playing Average Joes, but even the most ordinary characters need interesting stories to merit a movie based on their lives. Larry Crowne, which Hanks co-wrote and directed in addition to acting in it, casts him as possibly the most boring, bland character he’s played on screen yet.
We realize less than five minutes into the movie that Hanks’ middle-aged character, Larry is basically a nice guy. For a sales clerk at a supermarket, whose job involves retrieving abandoned shopping carts from the parking lot and stocking supplies on high shelves, he’s unusually cheerful and has an infectious enthusiasm that he seems to pass on to his colleagues. But then he’s abruptly fired one day when management decides his lack of a college education has made him unpromotable.
Larry quickly signs up for community college, where he makes friends with a fellow economics student who gives him a slick makeover and also introduces him to her boyfriend’s motor-scooter gang, with whom he rides around the city and hits local diners every afternoon. He also gradually softens his cynical and unhappily married public-speaking professor Mercedes (played by Julia Roberts), who will predictably go on to become his love interest in the story. At the end of the film, Larry has got a job in the kitchen of a diner owned by his friend. He’s cleared economics, and he’s also got an A+ in public speaking…although it’s unclear if he got that grade for the charming but vacuous speech he delivered in class, or because the teacher is crushing on him.
Larry’s is not an extraordinary story. Hell, it’s not even that uncommon. So many older Americans go back to college to improve their lives. What makes Larry a somewhat interesting character is the fact that he’s a good man who draws mostly good people around him. But in the absence of a dramatic story around such a character, I’m still not convinced he makes for a compelling protagonist of a movie.
Mike Leigh’s unforgettable film Happy-Go-Lucky was pegged on a heroine who was irrepressibly cheerful, but Leigh invested much by way of character depth to hold up his slim plot. In contrast, Larry Crowne offers neither a memorable story nor a deliciously layered lead.
I never thought I’d say this about a Tom Hanks film, but watching Larry Crowne is less fun than watching paint dry. It’s a huge disappointment from Hanks, who previously directed the thoroughly enjoyable musical comedy That Thing You Do!. Even Julia Roberts appears bored out of her skull going through the motions of this film.
I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Tom Hanks’ Larry Crowne. My advice to fans of the two-time Oscar-winning star: skip this one if you don’t want your heart broken.