With Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, George Takei, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson; Running Time 92 minutes; Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sexual content); Written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos; Directed by Tom Hanks.
In a season of cartoons and superhero movies, LARRY CROWNE is the equivalent of a comfortable pair of slippers. For viewers who wonder if there’s anything out there worth seeing for grown-ups during the summer, this is the movie they’ve wanted. It has some recognizable faces, the jokes are easy to digest, and the characters are ones with whom viewers will be comfortable. This isn’t a great romantic comedy by any means, but it one that is easy to enjoy.
The premise is that Larry (Hanks) is a loyal employee of UMart (think K-Mart and Walmart) who is let go for lacking a college education. At least that’s the excuse they give him. He’s divorced and, now, unemployed, and he owes more on his house than it’s worth. His next-door neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) suggests that he go to the local community college.
Larry takes Lamar’s advice, taking a course on public speaking taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). She’s isn’t thrilled with the classes she’s assigned or the students who sign up and is quick to cancel a class if she can. This semester, though, she’s going to have to go through with the speaking class. Larry also takes an economics course offered by a hilariously pompous professor (George Takei, nearly stealing the film).
Over the course of the semester, Larry will start to straighten out his life with the help of fellow student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with some fashion sense, Mercedes will deal with her failed marriage, and – the ads already give it away – make a connection with Larry. There’s nothing deep here, but we want these characters to get over their troubles and move on with their lives. The cleverness of the script by Hanks and Nia Vardalos (who wrote and starred in the Hanks-produced “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) is in making Larry and Mercedes characters with whom we can relate. Job loss, failed marriages – these are issues that we can understand.
In a lot of ways there’s not much at stake here. Larry’s worried about money but things seems to work out easily for him. Mercedes marriage is rocky – her husband watches what has to be the tamest internet porn in existence – but the situation is resolved with astounding rapidity. Hence the comfortable slipper, where you’re not trying to make a fashion statement. You just want to relax. “Larry Crowne” is a movie that lets you do just that.
This is Hanks’ second movie as director, after “That Thing You Do.” No one will accuse him of being a great stylist, but the two films share an affection for characters who don’t always have an easy road to follow. This is the sort of film that you can take your mother to, knowing that neither of you will be embarrassed. The dilettantes and pretentious critics who hate anything that’s easy or comfortable or life-affirming at the movies will have a terrible time with “Larry Crowne.” The rest of us can simply enjoy a light-hearted movie, nicely done.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.