Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) gets fired from his job as a salesman at U-mart. After retiring from the Navy he spent his life working hard at this job, trying to climb the ranks, only to be told that his lack of a college education is what left him in the dust of more educated but much less talented and devoted workers. And now, times are tough, so they cut him loose. He thought he was going to be employee of the month again.
|That's life for ya.|
In serious need of a job, but determined not to let anything get in his way this time, he trades his gas-guzzler suburban for a moped and signs up for classes at the local community college -- an economics class, a writing class and a speech class, the three first building blocks for a successful businessman -- but one of those classes would even go so far as to highhandedly change his life.
Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks. Taught by a sullen and sarcastic Mrs. Tainot (Pronounced Tay-no, not Tay-not) (Julia Roberts), who has a deadbeat husband (Bryan Cranston) and a pretty serious alcohol problem.
The plot of this movie builds up like real life. Events happen, never really anything big or dramatic, but by the end they have built into something pretty substantial. Though it's not hard for Larry's life to improve once it get as low as it is at the beginning, it's quite rewarding to watch him reevaluate himself and start down a fresh path with a fresh optimistic outlook, and find happiness there. This movie has nothing huge or life-changing to say, but what it does say it says sincerely and with plenty of entertainment.
|These two. Mostly, her.|
My favorite part is the characters and there's an awesome cast to play them, right down to the supporting characters. Tom Hanks is always charming, and watching him transform from frumpy and dated nerdy goof to cool and lively gentlemanly hero is more fun than I expected it'd be. To instigate his physical change is Talia (the amazingly diversely-talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a young, laid back free-spirit who invites him into her scooter gang, and is constantly buying him new, cooler things from haircuts to watches. Her boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama) is not a little bit jealous and makes for many amusing situations.
In the classroom, Mrs. Tainot is quite the character and the movie is nearly just as much about her as it is Larry. Life doesn't push her reset button for her, and she must figure out how to do it herself while navigating random inconvenient complexities and teaching people how to speak all the while. The few students of her class are all unique characters, even the smallest ones, and I love that. The best is the dumb skater dude played by Rami Malek. He may be totally stereotyped, but he's also totally hilarious and totally my favorite.
I also must mention Larry's neighbor (Cedric the Entertainer) and his wife (Taraji P. Henson) who run a 24/7 yard sale in their front yard, because, wait for it, they won a TV game show. Plus George Takei teaches Larry's Economics class. Yep, if nothing else this movie knew how to create some wacky and charming characters.
Besides starring, Tom Hanks actually directed and helped write this one too, and I say great job to him. The writing is sharp and memorable, and the directing is solid if free of a particular style. The story has some very unique qualities to it that are less about making a traditional comedy sure to attract crowds and more about telling a small but meaningful story honestly, and letting the charm and entertainment come through naturally. There was only one instance in the whole film that felt forced, and I was amused and charmed in every scene. Some of it is seriously funny, and lots of it has an understated thoughtfulness to it, so it makes you think and then sticks with you.
|Did I mention there is a smidgen of romance? Yup.|
This film has a bit of a bad rep for being dull and many reviews to back that up, but I honestly think that reaction is only because of wrong expectations. There is nothing at all wrong with Larry Crowne, except that it wasn't what people expected it to be (something groundbreaking that redefines the comedy genre probably -- people have high expectations of Tom Hanks, and why not?). It doesn't redefine anything, but sometimes the hero doesn't have to save the whole world for the movie to be great and that is absolutely the case here. Give a little attention to this charmer (though it may give you a frumpy first impression) and reap the unexpectedly sweet rewards.