Sunday, November 27, 2011

At the Movies: Larry Crowne

I always wondered why Larry Crowne was considered such a flop.  It had Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and a classic underdog-makes-good story.  But when I rented it recently I couldn't help but admit that it was missing that certain something.

That's not to say that it wasn't good.  If you've seen the trailers (or heck, by now, the movie), then you know that the title character (Tom Hanks) loses his upper management job at a Target-esque superstore because he lacks a college degree.  So he enrolls in (what I imagine to be) community college and takes a public speaking class taught by hardass Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts).  Ever the optimist, Larry tackles his new life cheerfully, trading in his gas-guzzling SUV for a more economical scooter and, coincidentally, membership into a scooter gang led by pretty young thing Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her jealous boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama).  But Larry has eyes only for teacher, who is conveniently married to a freeloading, porn-obsessed loser (Bryan Cranston).

Larry and Mercedes's courtship is far from orthodox, and certainly not as magical and carefree as this movie poster would lead you to believe.  To be honest, there were plenty of scenes that made me just plain hate Roberts's sour Ms. Tainot.  (At least until I remembered that sour people are sour for a reason and that fictional characters are no different.)  But the frustrated professor has a proverbial gooey center, and Larry is just the charmingly befuddled Little-Engine-that-could kind of guy to unveil it.

Overall, there isn't much of a storyline, and what story there is could have easily been depressing.  There are faint shades of Everything Must Go at play, particularly when Larry attempts to have a yard sale only to be challenged by his large-and-in-charge yard sale king neighbor (played by none other than Cedric the Entertainer).  Similarly, some of the classroom scenes mildly echo those from NBC's darkly comic "Community."  Yet despite these shadows, Larry Crowne remains on a trajectory as confidently upbeat as that of its hero.  Maybe that makes it less complicated, but that's also what makes it a good choice for easy weekend viewing.

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