Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are undoubtedly huge A-listers, and back in the day Larry Crowne would have had audiences flocking to see the two together. Having a script co-written by Nia Vardalos, of the mega-hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, should have also made this a guaranteed hit. Unfortunately times have changed – we now live in an age where star’s names do not have ultimate pulling power and, unless it features a title with the character’s name alá Spider-man, Batman or anything else ending in ‘man’, a film may not always be a hit. Poor Larry Crowne stood no chance.
Hanks stars as the titular character, a divorcee laid off work for an incredulous reason of not having a degree, despite holding the same retail manager position for 20 years. Deciding to downgrade his life (house to flat, car to scooter) because of this life-changing moment, he enrolls into a local college on some random course while working in a fast food restaurant in the evenings.
To achieve his goals (of just getting any degree) help comes along in the form of sexy classmate Talia (Brit TV actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw), her is-he-isn’t-he jealous boyfriend Dell (Wilder Valderrama), his grumpy, ranting black neighbour Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), and, of course, his teacher Mercedes (Roberts).
Yes, that really is it. It may come as a surprise to most that this is based on a true story. What may not be surprising is that it’s a true story based on a friend of Tom Hanks’, which explains a lot of the ‘quirky’ things that happen to him. From chancing on a scooter being sold by Lamar, to being immediately befriended by Talia for no apparent reason other than he’s old, to Mercedes pouncing on him following absolutely zero build-up – there’s nothing that escapes Larry and his new life.
What is intended as a ‘you-can-achieve-anything-regardless-of-age’ story ends up being a drab affair of randomness that should relate to life in some way, but with the nonsensical relationships of unrealistic characters, it totally skews the mark with its message. This cannot be more evident when Talia tries to modernise Crowne, unexpectedly turning up at his house with all of her ‘scooter club’ buddies to re-arrange his furniture for better feng-shui.
It also doesn’t help that Crowne is a bland main character, who stimulates little and bores a lot. As it’s all about his life and the plot revolves entirely around him there’s not much to save the film, despite Roberts’s best efforts and Mbatha-Raw’s spunky performance. Even fleeting appearances by Pam Grier and George Takei add nothing, and they get the worst and un-funniest lines of the film, making you feel embarrassed for them.
You would have thought that after Hanks and Roberts last collaborated effort, the equally boring Charlie Wilson’s War, they would’ve steered clear of each other. As it goes, this is little more than a contrived vanity project for Hanks, and you will find it more interesting trying to establish what he’s done to his face than enjoy the light-weight adventures of Larry Crowne.