Tom Hanks Ages Into Mid-Life Obsolescence in Larry Crowne

For a movie called Larry Crowne, it sure is tough to get a solid read on the character of Larry Crowne. Directed, co-written by, and starring Tom Hanks in that title role, the film seems to want to be some kind of post-recessional pick-me-up, an “It Gets Better” video for the struggling, aging-out American middle-class. And with its eager-to-please congeniality, it almost works, but with a pacing that is at once comfortably assured and frustratingly slack, like holding exactly to the speed limit on a stretch of open road, Larry Crowne never quite comes to life.

As the film opens, Larry seems content with his lot in life—at least, in the few short moments he is on-screen before being abruptly fired for lacking a college education from his job at U-Mart, a big-box store chain with the sneakily obtuse corporate culture of Walmart and the red-shirt/khaki-pants dress code of Target. This starts Larry off on a process of personal reinvention that finds him enrolling in community college as a way to better arm himself for the next job, becoming a motor-scooter enthusiast, and almost inadvertently wooing his age-appropriate teacher (Julia Roberts).

There isn’t much in the way of fresh-wound wallowing: Larry quickly and simply gets to the business of starting over. Any dissatisfactions he may have before embarking on this new chapter in his life are glossed over quickly, with just a mention of having been passed by for a promotion and a relatively recent rough divorce (his ex-wife never even gets a name). The film is so intent on remaining upbeat, seeing the positive, that it more or less forgets to acknowledge the negative.

A film about a late-middle-aged man forced to start fresh would presumably get some mileage from a stuck-in-his-ways reluctance to try new things, but Larry is immediately open and receptive to change, adapting quickly to exchanging texts with younger students, adopting a snazzy new wardrobe, and even starting to wear a wallet chain. There is never a strong enough sense of what was missing from Larry’s previous life––what he is changing from, or any dashed dreams or paths not taken––to really appreciate who he is changing into.

Despite opening with a fast-paced montage of Larry at work set to ELO’s bouncy “Hold On Tight” (and ending with ELO’s “Calling America”), tonally Larry Crowne is actually more of a mid-tempo groover in line with the three Tom Petty songs it prominently features, including a scooter-riding sequence set to “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Purposefully or not, the film takes on the character of those songs and their titles—unassuming and craftsmanlike with a vague, if vaguely unconvincing, undercurrent of optimism.

Roberts, who seems to have settled permanently into her recent screen persona of always being vaguely pissed off, plays a character with more obvious things to be upset about as a community-college English teacher. As her husband, a struggling sci-fi writer who mistakes blog-reading and comment-leaving for actually being productive, Bryan Cranston provides a needed jolt of energy. The scene that finds them both just soused enough to really let each other have it on the drive home from dinner has a sense of friction and spark that is missing from the rest of the movie.

Larry Crowne seems to be in some sense about getting rid of your shit, dropping the baggage, be it physical or spiritual, that bogs each of us down—a theme made literal with both Larry and Roberts’s Mrs. Tainot signaling forward movement by putting some stuff out front on the lawn. In trying to make Larry Crowne into a free-floating everyman, Hanks turns the film into something disconcertingly untethered, generalizing contemporary issues of downsizing and foreclosure and worries about gas mileage and accepting The New into something so blithely nondescript as to carry no real weight. If Hanks is even aware that Larry's wallet chain is less a symbol of hip rebirth than a signal of a geezer hopelessly chasing youth, as a filmmaker he doesn't have the teeth to reveal it.

 
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11 comments
moondog45
moondog45

This movie went right over the reviewer's head.The "geography show" explained Larry perfectly. Been down the same road as Larry. Old geezers are really hipper than young people. Try having kids.

Jon
Jon

The review is right on target. My wife rented this piece of crap and wasted six bucks. What a waste of time and money. The movie seemed more like a 70's after school special. All of the characters, idealistic locations, dialogue, costumes and a ting did not ring true. The neighbors with the 24/7 yard sale especially were a total distraction to an already ridiculous unbelievable story line.

Njmandal
Njmandal

The movie could have been better, but it has a good supporting cast and a few fresh young performers. I can find no fault with actors' performances. The actress who played Talia, in particular, I think will be seen again.

modigliani
modigliani

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I've seen the trailers and ads and even from those, I think your review is on-target (and very well written, by the way). To overlook the negatives of so much change in mid-life is something only a guy rich enough to avoid all those negatives could have come up with. I don't believe Tom did much research on this one or he'd have understood the difference between accepting the negatives of mid-life and how much too many of these old guys really do look like geezers trying to be young. Thanks for a great read...

livinadream
livinadream

I loved this movie. With all the negative and weird crap out there in movies and the real world, it was nice to just sit and enjoy and not have to think. It took me away for an hour and a half. I can relate to him and his quandry as I got the heave ho a long time ago (Reagan years) and had to reinvent myself and go back to school at a late age. That, plus the fact that I work at a community college in almost that exact setting made this movie great for me. So, it's feel good, I like that.

Bob
Bob

the most undramatic corny movie t o com e along in a long time . These stars hit an alltime low and if I were them I'd be ashamed to put my name to it. I will certainly scrutinize there next movies a lot closer before I waste my money on these stars again.

Super Girl
Super Girl

I disagree with this review. It is a fresh movie and tom hanks couldnt be better: a character extremely positive, happy and with a great attitude towards life, a lot of middle age individuals should learn how to cope with reality like this character in the movie.. julia? you can understand the frustration she's going with ther husbando checking out porn on the internet all the time, how sad! "I am a guy doing a guy thing when you are not around" haha that's hilarious!

TomL
TomL

He wasn't looking at porn, just girls in bikinis.

Angus
Angus

What guy bothers with a "porn" site where they keep their bikinis on?

 

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