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Until he was downsized, affable, amiable Larry Crowne was a superstar team leader at the big-box company where he's worked since his time in the Navy. Underwater on his mortgage and unclear on what to do with his suddenly free days, Larry heads to his local college to start over. There he becomes part of a colorful community of outcasts, also-rans and the overlooked all trying to find a better future...
For more about Larry Crowne and the Larry Crowne Blu-ray release, see Larry Crowne Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 10, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Sarah Mahoney, Rob Riggle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, George Takei
Director: Tom Hanks
» See full cast & crew
Larry Crowne Blu-ray Review
Is 'Larry Crowne' friend or faux?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 10, 2011
Tom Hanks is perhaps the most unlikely superstar of contemporary cinema. Rumpled, almost deliberately anti- glamorous, given to a usually low key performance style that doesn't overtly call attention to itself, Hanks' career seems even more improbable when one remembers that his first role of relatively major note (after a couple of fairly forgettable cameos or roles in throwaway projects) was that of a cross-dressing advertising guy in the short-lived sitcom Bosom Buddies. But people saw something in Hanks, something that was oddly reminiscent of a bygone age, where equally unlikely leading men like Jimmy Stewart rose to the head of the pack against equally formidable odds. Hanks attracted the attention of several up and comers back in the early eighties, chief among them Ron Howard after Hanks guest starred on an episode of Happy Days. And with the surprise smash success of Howard's fantasy Splash, Hanks' big screen career was on solid footing, leaving his Bosom Buddies co-star Peter Scolari in the dust of some kind of Trivial Pursuit alternate universe. Hanks of course consolidated his stature and prestige with any number of iconic roles, bringing home Oscars and Emmys along the way, but like any actor worth his salt, all he really wanted to do was direct. Hanks finally got his chance in the underappreciated That Thing You Do!, a fond kind of post-Happy Days look at a one-hit wonder band in the early sixties. You might almost think you'd wandered back into That Thing You Do! as Hanks' latest directorial (and starring) achievement Larry Crowne starts up, as it sports a somewhat similar title design and gets started to some rollicking rock by Jeff Lynne as it establishes the titular character, played by Hanks, as a do-gooder, all around Everyman who works at U-mart, a red-shirted stand-in for Target. Following in what almost become a genre unto itself in this recession weary era of economic downturn, Larry, like characters in everything from The Company Men to Everything Must Go, finds out he's been downsized, due not to any issue with his work performance, but due to the fact that he never had a college education, making his climb up the U-Mart corporate ladder all but impossible. Despite Larry's semi-desperate pleas that the company recognize he did twenty years in the Navy right out of high school, they let him go, and his world is turned upside down, albeit briefly, until he decides to get that college degree courtesy of his local community college.
Larry Crowne is a patently odd project for Hanks to direct. It's genial but slight, and it plays more like a made for television film than a major feature pairing Hanks with another superstar, Julia Roberts, who plays the snarky Speech teacher Mercy (for Mercedes) Tainot who ends up changing Larry's life, and not just through coursework, if you catch my drift. The screenplay by Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos is like an outline, drawn in broad strokes and with no real narrative flow, lackluster drama and only a few slight smiles along the way, certainly no outright guffaws. Is Larry Crowne supposed to be a heartfelt drama of a middle aged man having to reclaim his life after an unexpected career letdown? Is it a more traditional romantic comedy bringing two disparate misfits together in a match made in, well, community college? The problem with Larry Crowne is it's neither one nor the other, and when it does attempt to dabble in either of those genres, it does so tentatively, without any real commitment.
The problems with Larry Crowne occur virtually right off the bat, with the scene where Larry is fired. Hanks plays the scene like an American Tragedy, a heart tugging moment of a guy who sees his midlife shattered by an insane decision by a corporate entity that has a rulebook that doesn't make any sense. The three people corporate types sitting down with Larry, however, including The Daily Show's Rob Riggle, play the scene like it's a Saturday Night Live skit, with non sequiturs galore and one of those faux arch approaches that is supposed to be hilarious but rarely is (and it isn't here). That same tonal ambiguity plagues Larry Crowne for the rest of its relatively brief running time. This is a film that wants to exude quirkiness, but quirk is not a potent substitute for plot or character.
The issues with the film's tonality continue just as soon as Larry's fired, for instead of giving us some emotional insight into the character, we get a montage worthy of a 1950s Douglas Sirk potboiler as Larry attempts to find a new job, and then magically through the recommendation of his Lottery winning neighbor (played by Cedric the Entertainer), Larry decides to go back to school. Within literally minutes, he's befriended by a quirky young girl, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who, seeing Larry arrive on a little mini-scooter (a "vehicle" he's purchased from Cedric's constant garage sale), invites Larry into a "gang" of college kids who all own similar scooters. Yeah, right. Quirkiness is okay as far as it goes, but this is just pure silliness and something that seeks to create some false sense of community built around a particularly odd element. Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show) is also on hand as Talia's faux-jealous boyfriend. (There's an awful lot of faux in Larry Crowne, one of the film's most peculiar proclivities). Sulu himself, George Takei, also shows up in a semi-cameo as another professor Crowne has, though Takei's presence seems to have been predicated on his "mad laugh" which was part of those odd commercials for a television brand he did last year.
The other putative main character here is Roberts' unhappy teacher Mercy. Mercy is in a devolving marriage with a porn addicted internet entrepreneur (played by Bryan Cranston), or at least that's what we're meant to glean from the absolutely minimal information we're given about these two. Roberts sulks around this film like she's been forced to show up on set and suck lemons to earn what was probably a rather magnificent paycheck. When she does get a moment or two of her trademark ebullience, it seems completely out of character with the rest of the film, forced and unnatural and, well, just plain faux, like so much else in Larry Crowne. The whole issue of Crowne needing to attend school to reinvigorate his career is completely mitigated about halfway through the film in any case, when a longtime buddy of his hires him on ths spot. So what was that first forty five minutes all about, anyway?
One of the oddest and faux-est (to coin a word) things about Larry Crowne, as irrelevant as it may ultimately be, is the absolutely bizarre change in Tom Hanks' appearance. Perhaps taking a cue from his Sleepless in Seattle co-star Meg Ryan, Hanks has remade his face in some sort of plasticene image. Is it botox? A botched eye job? The change in his appearance was immediately apparent to me even when I saw the teasers for the film on television, but blown up to larger proportions on a flatscreen television and magnified by the resolution of Blu-ray, it's truly appalling. What is wrong with these actors? Do they not realize we're not doddering idiots (well, some of us, anyway) and will recognize they've done something to themselves? Ryan is virtually unrecognizable anymore, and what was so wrong with her to begin with? She was cute, for crying out loud. Now she's like some relic of one of those websites devoted to plastic surgery gone horribly awry. Hanks was never a picture perfect leading man, appearance wise, and in a way that has always been part of his appeal. Attempting to achieve some sort of, well, faux youthfulness now that he's well into his fifties just seems pretentious. As I mentioned in my review of the Catherine Deneuve starrer Potiche, these vain Hollywood icons should take a page from Deneuve (not to mention her elephantine costar in the film, Gerard Depardieu) and just age, for crying out loud. Okay, end of rant.
Larry Crowne Blu-ray, Video Quality
It's usually Universal catalog releases we have to worry about, but Larry Crowne is a curiously middling release of a new title from the studio, delivered via a VC-1 codec in 1080p and 2.40:1. The overall look of the film is okay, nothing more, nothing less, with a general softness and drabness that just kind of lies there and never really pops in any meaningful way. Colors are, again, okay, nothing more, nothing less, and the transfer has some significant issues with crush, especially in the extended nighttime sequence where Roberts ditches Cranston and ends up sharing a scooter ride with Hanks. Close-ups occasionally offer something akin to real high definition fine detail, but this is really a curiously pallid offering from Universal, one which seems to echo the general lethargy surrounding the film itself.
Larry Crowne Blu-ray, Audio Quality
At least marginally better is Larry Crowne's appealing lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Hanks fills the film with all sorts of source cues which spill into the surrounds and often sound quite boisterous. And the film also presents a fair number of nicely immersive moments, including everything from the buzzing of manifold scooters panning nicely across the soundfield, to some well placed directionality in terms of dialogue and ambient effects in everything from the college sequences to the café moments later in the film. Dialogue is generally front and center, but well prioritized and clearly presented. The film doesn't really offer a lot of opportunity for sonic bombast, but this track is fine as far as it goes, and is certainly heads and shoulders above the video quality of this release.
Larry Crowne Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Larry Crowne Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
How two stars of such caliber as Hanks and Roberts could have ended up in this mess (let alone write and direct it) is anyone's guess. There's just nothing very special about this film, something that this pairing should have augured with absolutely no problem. If you're a fan of the stars, you'll probably eke out enough residual charm to not make this a total waste, but when compared to what might have been, Larry Crowne is at the very least a major missed opportunity.
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Larry Crowne Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Larry Crowne Blu-ray - September 13, 2011
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the 2011 romantic comedy Larry Crowne for Blu-ray. The Tom Hanks directed rom-com stars the actor as a recently fired middle-aged man who enrolls at a local community college. He then sparks a romance with his ...
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