The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Larry Crowne

It's pretty easy to see why 2011's Larry Crowne was a disappointment in theaters and reviewed less than favorably by many critics. It doesn't deliver a huge, high-arcing message, doesn't tell us anything about the human race or society. The performances aren't groundbreaking, and the story doesn't explore any new territory. What is it then? Just a good, old-fashioned (if sometimes sappy and/or sentimental) story with likable characters. Every so often, that's not a bad thing to stumble across.

A 20-year veteran of the Navy and a divorcee, 40-something Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is fired from his blue collar job because he doesn't have a college degree. He's completely taken back by the news, never realizing it was an issue. Struggling to find a job, Larry really only has one alternative left open to him. He enrolls in the local community college, taking several classes, including a speech class taught by Mercy Tainot (Julia Roberts), a professor burned out by the profession, and an econ class taught by Dr. Matsutani (George Takei). Surrounded by a much younger student body, Larry is most definitely out of his comfort zone. But as he adjusts, he begins to find that it's never too late to change in life.

Yes, that could be sappiest, most sugary thing I've ever written in 800-plus reviews. But you know what? That's the whole movie wrapped up in one quick sentence. 'Crowne' is about the people. It is a personal story based in the little people on their day-to-day lives. We see the good and bad, and more often than not, the individual rising out of the bad situation and moving toward the good. It's refreshing to see movies like this. There's no violence or sex or twists or turns or betrayals. Director/producer/writer/star Hanks does a great job putting it all together. Sure, there are bigger things at work -- Larry's struggles at the job search are certainly very timely with current economic struggles -- but when it comes down to it, this is a story about people looking for happiness. 

Now that said, I do see the objections some viewers and critics had with this movie. It is so ridiculously sugary sweet and sappy that any diabetics watching should be careful. Larry attends a community college that only exists in the movies with administration leading tai chi classes in the quad, stoner kids who hang with the jocks, that sort of thing. He meets one student, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the free spirit and insanely adorable college girl who won't be tied down by society's conventions. Talia invites Larry to ride with her "scooter gang," where he also meets Dell (Wilmer Valderrama), her possibly jealous but just downright nice boyfriend. There's also Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson as his intensely stereotypical neighbors, identified in one review as the "magical Negro" characters. In any other movie, I might have called Hanks out, but nope, not this one. This movie doesn't have a mean bone in its body.

Two stars who worked together previously in 2007's Charlie Wilson's War, Hanks and Roberts team up again here in a much lighter story.  Neither star has quite the star power they did in the 1990s or even early in the 2000s, but it's still Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts for goodness sake! Hanks brings his usual easygoing tone and manner to his part as Larry. Partially because it's Hanks and partially because the character is so sympathetic and a genuinely nice, good guy, you can't help but root for him. Roberts is given the darker of the two parts, a jaded, more than a little cynical professor who questions what she's doing as a teacher. Their scenes together have an easy flow that only two pros like this could show. And I add this as the shallow guy, if any of my professors ever looked like Julia Roberts, I'd have gotten an A+....just saying.

Behind the camera for just the second time with a feature film, Hanks fills out his cast with some solid names including those already mentioned earlier, Takei especially having some fun as the econ professor with a devilish laugh. Bryan Cranston does what he does best playing a sketchy, cocky son of a you know what, Roberts' husband who's fallen on some self-imposed hard times. Pam Grier has a small part as Frances, a fellow member of the faculty and friend of Mercy's. I feel safe saying this isn't a great movie, and who knows? Maybe it isn't even a good movie. I can say there's a comfort with this movie. Just enjoy this one and don't overthink it.

Larry Crowne <---trailer (2011): ***/****

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