“Larry Crowne” (2011)

larry-crowne-first-look-george-takei

★★★★☆

OK. For starters let me say that this is a context-sensitive rating I’m giving this movie. Your enjoyment of it will depend on your age and life experiences. If you’re under 40, odds are you won’t dig it as much. If you’ve never been laid off, or never been through some serious economic “down turn”, and be faced with having to re-invent and re-discover and re-define yourself, then this film likely won’t resonate with you much either.

The thing is, it’s not really a great movie. It’s good on it’s own merits, but not great. However, if your life has had a big fat-assed valley or two in it, and you came out the other side of it wiser, stronger, and better – then this becomes a great movie.

The basic plot is that Crowne (Tom Hanks) is an ex-Navy man who gets laid off from his store manager job because he has no college degree. So he goes to community college, meets some interesting folks, and falls in love with his public-speaking teacher, Julia Roberts. In doing so, he emerges a happier – and cooler – guy.

Normally I can’t stand Julia Roberts because she always plays the same perky, quirky, heart-of-gold kind of girl. In this film, she’s in a crappy marriage with a loser husband and she drinks. A lot. It was really great seeing her not playing the usual kind of role.

Hanks gives a pretty under-stated performance. He’s as usual very believable as the “Joe Average” kind of guy. Since Hanks also wrote and directed, it was good to see him resist the temptation to focus too much on his character. All the other actors get their chance to shine and the screenplay is very balanced.

One of the best casting decisions was George “Mr Sulu” Takei as the economics professor. His booming voice and overly theatrical style really worked for the part. Rob Riggle, Pam Grier, and Cedric the Entertainer also co-star in minor roles. An interesting cast – and it works.

This isn’t a belly-laugh kind of movie. It’s very charming and subtle. It reminds me a bit of Steve Martin’s “L.A. Story” in terms of feeling – though “Larry Crowne” isn’t as funny, nor does it poke fun at culture. But in terms of story-telling, quality, casting, and emotion it’s in that vein.

One thing I really like is that unlike most “I got laid off, now what do I do?” movies, this one is very up-beat. Hanks’ character has maybe a total of three minutes of moping and sadness about his situation. But for the rest of the film, Crowne has made his choice and is following the path – taking on any obstacles as they come – and genuinely seeming to enjoy the new people and experiences he encounters as a result. At the same time, it isn’t preachy – none of this “shape your own destiny” mantra stuff – all that is implied in his actions and the outcome.

If you liked “L.A. Story”, you’ll like “Larry Crowne”. If the last ten years of this economy has kicked the crap out of you: you’ll like this film as well (also check out “The Company Men“). If you like a well-made, subtle movie with a great cast, you’ll like this film. If you’re looking for the “smash hit comedy of the summer”, though, this ain’t it.