It’s always interesting when a film steps out of the shadows of the regurgitated plots and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. This summer, like any other summer in the 21st century, has been riddled with superheroes, wizards, vampires, pirates and any other scrags that can be thrown our way in optional 3D. Many of the films that don’t fit this epic mode are usually put into the romantic comedy genre and are lucky to clear the $10 million mark before the studio that sanctioned the film kills it and sends it to DVD heaven.
Larry Crowne, with its nice little story, could not possibly stand a chance against the sure fire mega-hit that is Transformers, which was released the same weekend. But I don’t think writer/director Tom Hanks (with writing help from Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) was at all concerned about his film’s box office stats. I think he and Vardalos just wanted to make a good film about a good guy who has the power to affect people and allows people to affect him.
In Larry, the title character, played by Hanks, is a divorcee who has been down-sized from his managerial job at the Target-esque UMart because he never earned a degree in anything. With unemployment money on the way, Larry decides to take the UMart firing team’s last advice and enroll into community college where he takes two classes: speech and economics. It is in his speech class that Larry falls for Mrs. Mercedes “Marcy” Tainot (Julia Roberts), and she him.
The writing of Larry Crowne is simple at its core. I don’t find fault with Hanks’ and Vardalos’ decision to make the story light. Larry Crowne the movie and Larry Crowne the man are so unassuming, but have so much character that you can’t help but enjoy the simplicity of it all.
I can also enjoy the real-life situations in which Larry and friends find themselves. Marcy’s husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston) is a two-time published writer, but spends his days looking at cleavage and pretending that his wife doesn’t know that he’s not doing anything with himself. Larry’s college buddy, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of the short-lived Undercovers) is trying to go for her ambition, but has to choose between that ambition and school.
And, then we have poor Larry. Through the wooden stylings of his Economics teacher, Mr. Matsutani (George Takei), he has learned that if he is truly honest with himself, he can’t afford the life he has lived for the past few years and makes some hard, yet needed decisions. Larry is the kind of honest man who seems like the underdog, but is inspiring nonetheless.
Hanks is awfully good at directing himself in poignant comedies. He’s proven that time and again. But, add Vardalos, a woman who gets women, and Hanks has this critic’s hearty approval.
But, it wasn’t all Hanks, Vardalos, and Roberts. Cedric the Entertainer’s Lamar does a fine job of being a neighbor and a friend. He also has no problem pointing out the obvious racial differences between himself and Larry. Whether or not Hanks and Vardalos are trying to make a statement about racial inequality is debatable.
Taraji P. Henson as Lamar’s wife, B’Ella and Pam Grier as Frances, Marcy’s co-worker, have very little screen time and don’t make enough of a splash to be taken seriously. It’s a shame that Henson’s and Grier’s characters feel under-used because both women provide tremendous support for their counterparts.
Simplicity and realism seem to get lost in the sea of clones during the summer months, so it’s nice to break from tradition and see films that speak to the heart of us all. Even if the film is just encouraging us to never give up; no matter what the situation looks like. Because, before you know it, a complicated life can simplify itself and work out just fine. It did for Larry.
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com
Photo: Julia Roberts