Larry Crowne

Second Rate Education

         
 

01 July 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

The down to Earth summer movie that falters foolishly from half-concocted ideas and one sulky performance. Larry Crowne is an affectionate if misguided piece written and directed by everyman Tom Hanks, and his lead performance is very everyman: a mid-level manager at a goods emporium. For reasons that stumble on contrivance, he is fired because of his lack of education which limits him from any vertical position at the company (ignoring that he has twenty years of Navy experience). Larry has an unexplained divorce and a house left over, and with no job market he goes back to school to get his degree. His public speaking teacher Mercedes Tainot is played by Julia Roberts, who is having a bummer summer. Supposed lessons are to be gained, for public speaking could be the applied skills that will turn Larry’s life around.

The worst performance by an actress this year belongs to Julia Roberts, and it’s not by ineptitude of talent but of her insistence for blatant sulkiness and dismissal of the supporting characters around her life (the students). There is one thing about being tired with summer teaching that readily has her nearly cancelling the class because of lack of enrollment (ten students needed), but the crankiness that she invests in every class scene – every single one of them except the last one which are finals – is gratuitous in her exhibited glumness. (The studio is only using promotional pictures of Julia where she’s smiling.)  Roberts must believe that a realistic self-battered performance for Oscar cred was needed for what is supposed to be a feel-good romantic comedy. Her character’s discomfort stems primarily from her lazy, porn watching, boobs obsessed husband played by big baby Bryan Cranston.

In these kind of movies I never understand why a gentle and honest man like a Larry Crowne or a type like him ever develops a crush on someone that is a tight ass. The movie itself has such other problems such as pedestrian dilemmas and oversights, but the friendly and infectious Gugu Mbatha-Raw (formerly on TV’s “Undercovers”) brings a joy that would otherwise be absent without her. Her character Talia is part of a scooter gang that tows Larry along when he’s short on friends – his gang nickname is Lance Corona. Lots of men fall in love with her, boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama) warns, and you can’t help but hope for Larry to whisk her away.

That can’t happen though when there is a thirty year-plus age difference. We are left waiting for Mercedes to go from crank to full-blown pissed, certainly to happen once she has a scrap with her shallow husband. Coincidences are common in the movies, but Larry has got to be passing by at the right moment when Mercedes needs to be consoled, and what do you know, he’s on his scooter and she’s… without a ride. Alcohol is always a component in scenes where teachers forego better judgment to romantically link up with their students, but Larry is a gentleman who can at least wait until the end of semester. Conversely, I believe that the self-confidence that Larry gains is boosted by his relationship with Talia, not his teacher Mercedes.

Witnesses to Larry’s ride to self-actualization include George Takei (TV’s old “Star Trek”) as his professor in economics, Rita Wilson as a friendly but lousy advising bank officer, Holmes Osborne as a school administrator and encourager of Larry, Ian Gomez as a diner owner who gives Larry part-time work as a cook, and from sitcom-land, Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson as neighbors running a perpetual garage sale.

Julia Roberts can light it up with irresistible beauty and poise in lots of her performances (Netflix “Notting Hill” or “Charlie Wilson’s War”), just like the adorable Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings here, but she sinks an entire movie as if she had some kind of agenda to display actor’s craft in the art of misery. She puts on the million dollar smile, in an instantaneous turnaround just as the movie calls for it, but it’s late. A formulaic script in this genre can be redeemed by sweetness, and Roberts would do herself well to observe her protégé. My final grade is generous if only for the perkiness in my mood that prevailed in scenes of Hanks hanging with happy people.

98 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

ROMANTIC COMEDY / MILD & CHARMING / STAY HOME FROM WORK MOVIE

Film Cousins: “Falling in Love” (1984); “Surrender” (1987); “The Terminal” (2004); “Starter for 10″ (2006).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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