Monday, December 26, 2011

Hanks and Roberts Shine in Winning "Larry Crowne"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 107 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Larry Crowne (2011)
Running time: 98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual content
WRITERS: Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Alan Cody
COMPOSER: James Newton Howard


Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Bryan Cranston, Pam Grier, Rami Malek, Maria Canals Barrera, Rita Wilson, George Takei, Ian Gomez, and Rob Riggle

Larry Crowne is a 2011 romantic comedy and college film directed by Tom Hanks and is the first film Hanks has directed since That Thing You Do! (1996). The film focuses on a middle-aged man, downsized from a big-box company, who decides to attend college for the first time. In a landscape full of movies that are full of unbelievable things, Larry Crowne is level-headed, real, and, for me, a great !@#$%& movie.

Larry Crowe (Tom Hanks) has just been fired from his job at the retail giant, UMart. The divorced, middle-aged man is drowning in a six-figure mortgage and suddenly cannot find another job. His neighbors, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) and B’Ella (Taraji P. Henson), suggest that he attend college, so Larry enrolls at East Valley Community College where he even joins a scooter club.

One of the members, the free-spirited Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), befriends Larry, renames him “Lance Corona,” and turns him into her makeover project. Larry thrives in an economics class with a peculiar instructor, Dr. Ed Matsutani (George Takei). In a public-speaking class, Larry develops an unexpected crush on his teacher, the taciturn Mercedes “Mercy” Tainot (Julia Roberts), who has lost her passion for teaching and is in the midst of a personal crisis. Both are about to discover a new reason for living.

I saw a quote from a review of Larry Crowne that described it as bland and conventional. On the surface, Larry Crowne may seem so, but it actually isn’t. Ostensibly a romantic comedy, this film is really about two people, Larry Crowne and Mercedes Tainot, in full midlife crisis. In those roles, Hanks and Roberts, respectively, give their best performances of recent years. The shock and grief Hanks portrays early in the film when Larry is fired is palatable, so much so that I nearly burst into tears (having undergone a similar experience).

Roberts’ turn as the burnt-out professor, Tainot, is equally inspired. She fashions Mercy as a sarcasm addict whose suffer-no-fools attitude actually hides a generous soul. Roberts does what Hanks does – uses every moment of screen time to build her character into something a bit deeper than what can be described in 20 words or less. Crowne and Tainot are more than my brief descriptions imply.

The supporting characters are mostly types and are not fully realized characters. They are in this movie to add laughs and to give the film some zest and odd flavors. Why else have Cedric the Entertainer, Wilmer Valderrama, Bryan Cranston, Pam Grier, George Takei, Ian Gomez, and Rob Riggle in throw-away parts if not to give the film different essences from unique characters?

However, it is the relaxed chemistry between Hanks and Roberts and also their robust performances that make Larry Crowne surprisingly not conventional and certainly not bland. It’s one of the best romantic comedies of the year, if not the best.

8 of 10

Monday, December 26, 2011

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