LARRY CROWNE (2011)
Director: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Wilmer Valderrama, Nia Vardalos, Nia Vardalos, Taraji P. Henson, Rami Malek
RunTime: 1 hr 39 mins
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.larrycrowne.com/
Opening Day: 7 July 2011
Synopsis: Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts reunite for a dramatic comedy about how the hard knocks from today's recession inspire one everyday guy to undergo a personal reinvention: Larry Crowne. Until he was downsized, affable, amiable Larry Crowne (Hanks) was a superstar team leader at the big-box company where he's worked since his time in the Navy. Underwater on his mortgage and unclear on what to do with his suddenly free days, Larry heads to his local college to start over. There he becomes part of a colorful community of outcasts, also-rans and the overlooked all trying to find a better future for themselves.often moving around town in a herd of scooters. In his public-speaking class, Larry develops an unexpected crush on his teacher Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), who has lost as much passion for teaching as she has for her husband. The simple guy who has every reason to think his life has stalled will come to learn an unexpected lesson: when you think everything worth having has passed you by, you just might discover your reason to live.
We in the tiny island of Singapore should count ourselves lucky given the current economic situation facing the superpowers in the Western world, most notably the United States. After all, despite much looming uncertainty on the global front, our economy is still poised to grow steadily this year, and unemployment continues to be something most of us read about in the papers rather than having to experience for ourselves. Many in the United States however are not quite as fortunate, and it is these people that Tom Hanks has chosen to speak to through his second outing as director.
The titular character Larry Crowne (which Hanks also plays) represents the typical middle-aged blue-collar worker, and Crowne’s circumstance is similar to the predicament many of these in the US are currently facing. As the film opens, Crowne is the affable manager in a Walmart-like chain store who thinks he’s being summoned for what would be his ninth ‘Employee of the Month’ award, only to find out that management is firing him for not possessing a college degree. Yes, when it comes to the sack, corporate will come up with whatever reason they can think of- and Hanks isn’t afraid to portray them as smug, callous individuals.
Facing mortgage payments and imminent foreclosure, Crowne responds by taking the advice of his lottery-lucky neighbours (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji B. Henson) and enrols himself in community college. The move turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as the ostensibly over-aged Crowne meets the hip free-spirited Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), joins her friendly biker gang, learns to ride a scooter, trades in his clothes for newer hipper attire, regains control of his finances and gets to fall in love with his English public speaking class teacher Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). That’s a lot of positive change just from one move, so much so that Crowne losing his job seems little more than a blip in his life.
Unlike last year’s “The Company Men”, or even “Up in the Air”, which also dealt with the prescient theme of unemployment, Hanks’ treatment of the subject is so decidedly upbeat that it isn’t just bittersweet- it’s really just sweet. And indeed, one can certainly find fault with Hanks’ sugar-coated handling of essentially a downbeat, depressing real-life issue many individuals find difficulty grappling with- most of them without the same kind of fortune or turnaround that Crowne manages to get by with. But hey Hanks’ intentions are, if you think hard about it, logical- why would you want to go to the cinema and watch someone fictional go through the same disheartening situation you’re in?
So instead Hanks and his co-writer Nia Vardalos (the breakout star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding which Hanks produced) have firmly traded in gloom and pessimism for cheer and optimism, where Crowne becomes a living, breathing, walking model of positivity. The simple message their 98-min movie tries to convey is this- see change as something positive rather than negative, and embrace wholeheartedly the possibilities it brings. There are certainly truisms to the film’s earnest and sincere message, so simplistic though it may sound, the genuinely buoyant fable- together with its rather infectious spirit- does succeed in making you feel more sanguine.
Of course, a huge reason why “Larry Crowne” is able to get its audience to believe in its message of hope is Tom Hanks himself. Playing Crowne may hardly be a stretch for the Academy Award-winning actor, but Hanks brings his immense charm and Everyman appeal to bear on his character. Julia Roberts is equally winning as Crowne’s romantic interest, her character undergoing her own transformation whether as a disillusioned teacher or as a disgruntled wife. Hanks and Roberts are pros, and the former “Charlie Wilson’s War” stars share an easy and engaging rapport with each other.
Other notable performances from the ensemble cast include a hilarious turn by George Takei as Crowne’s economics professor Dr. Matsutani who comes with his own unique quirky sense of humour; as well as an effervescent Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the vivacious classmate Talia who is ultimately responsible for Crowne’s makeover. Hanks gives each of the film’s supporting characters room and time to shine, even if it means underplaying the scenes he is in, and these myriad personas in turn add colour, variety and rhythm to the film.
In only his sophomore outing as director, Hanks reveals an assuredness that gives the film a breezy pace by giving each scene time to grow and develop, and yet not allowing them to overstay their welcome- one is quietly thankful that Vardalos is not director here, especially considering her less-than stellar directorial debut “I Hate Valentine’s Day”. But together with “That Thing You Do!”, there is a unmistakable similarity in the type of films Hanks makes as a director- light-hearted jaunty movies designed to put its audience in a feel-good mood.
The choice of material is also testament to Hanks’ knowledge and confidence of his own strengths, especially that of a likeable Average Joe- and this recession fable works perfectly well on that level. Even if it does deal with a gloomy subject, Hanks’ determination to turn it into something positive in order to inspire his audience is admirable, and you’ll quickly find yourself yielding to its low-key but no less infectious charm. It’s a fairy tale for the times, if you will, but we could all do with a little hope in these uncertain times.
(A feel-good recession fable that coasts on the winning charm of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts)
Review by Gabriel Chong
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