What the heck is wrong with “Larry Crowne”? Tom Hanks is a great actor and producer. He also directed a terrific film called “That Thing You Do.” But he isn’t a writer, and it shows in “Larry Crowne.” Nia Vardalos had a great idea with this movie–at 55, a guy who’s never been to college loses his job at a Wal Mart type place and has to take classes at a local community college. He’s divorced, and falls in love with one of his teachers.
That’s the whole idea. There’s nothing else. The idea is a concept, a pitch, to which no one apparently said, “And then what happens?” Because nothing happens. Tom is the guy, Julia Roberts is the teacher. The main character is developed a little. Julia’s teacher, unbelievably named Mercedes–and called “Mercy” by her pals–is an unconvincing drunk with a lout of a husband (the under-utilized Bryan Cranston).
Here’s what else is going on: Larry has black neighbors right out of a sitcom (Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson), and a cute black school friend (Gugu Mbatha Raw). Mercy has a black best friend played by the ever great Pam Grier. And of course, these characters are the soothsayers. They’re the reality check for Larry and Mercy. It’s great that the movie employs so many black actors, but it would be swell if they weren’t all cliches. I’m still not sure what the story was about Cedric’s character–a guy who won $500,000 in the lottery and now holds a permanent tag sale on his front lawn. Taraji is completely wasted. Gugu makes a very strong debut.
“Larry Crowne” is only 99 minutes, but it could run fine at 45. There’s one story, and it’s told slowly as it is. Hanks and Vardalos came up with nothing even remotely interesting for the other characters in Mercy’s classes, or any backstory for Larry or Mercy, and no plot. Also, theirs is a sexless romance. For a midlife sex story, think of Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in “It’s Complicated.” There’s none of that fun or wit in “Larry Crowne.” There are just innumerable missed opportunities for stories–like Larry never resolving his situation at work or having any thoughts about what’s happened to him. He just does what the script tells him to do.
At the end of the credits you will see “No animals were harmed.” And no stories were told. If Larry wrote this script at the community college I’m afraid he’d get an “Incomplete.”
PS “Larry Crowne” is a family affair. Hanks’s real life actress wife, Rita Wilson, appears in a blonde wig as a banker. I like Rita, and she’s cute in her scenes with Tom. Their son, Chet “Haze” Hanks, makes what I think is his feature film debut as a pizza delivery boy who gets to yell at Julia: “You’re hot!”