The comedy is too broad
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Tom Hanks
Written By: Tom Hanks, Nia Vardalos
Cast: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Brian Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Rqw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grief, Rita Wilson
Screened at: Lincoln Square, NYC, 6/27/11
Opens: July 1, 2011
Thematically "Larry Crowne" is up my alley. The tagline is "You're never too old to learn." Tom Hanks, who in real life will be fifty-five next week, goes to college for the first time, an experience that changes his life. I identified with him because though I went to college and grad school at the usual time, I began an advanced degree in theater at the age of forty-seven, the second-oldest in my class. I can't say that the experience changed my life since, after all, I didn't run into an adorable twenty-seven year old coed to adopt me, make me remove my dorky clothes, and remake my image with cutting-age glasses, correcting my image with tight pants and removing my tucked-in shirt to wear more stylistically on the outside. Nor did I fall in love with any of the teachers during my four years at the university. These experiences probably changed Tom Hanks's character, Larry Crowne, however, more than the class he takes in Speech 217 at a community college that's called ironically "Vassar in the Valley." The movie in some way reinforces the stereotype that community colleges in the U.S. are for remediation, since the students who go there just want to have fun in class and are not overly serious.
The problem with the movie, despite its excellent and, to me relevant theme, is that the comedy is overly broad. While thankfully it does not play into today's fashionable vulgarity as Jake Kasdan's "Bad Teacher" does, at the same time it exhibits a middle-aged instructor who is burned out, doesn't particularly want to remain on the job, but whose life changes as much as Crowne's, giving her a reason to think that not all men are scuzzy like her husband. At the same time, Julia Roberts in the role of Mercedes Tainot, lacks the script that gave her performance brilliance as a teacher of History of Art at a much more selective college in Mike Newell's 2003 picture, "Mona Lisa."
After Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is laid off from his job at a Wal-Mart style store because he did not have college (he spent 20 years of his youth in the Navy), he despairs, though his neighbor, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) helps him out by selling him an old scooter to replace his gas-guzzling rec vehicle. To make up for his lack of higher education, he enrolls in the local two-year college where he not only falls in love with Ms. Tainor (Julia Roberts), his speech teacher, but is "adopted" by a lively co-ed, Talia (Gugulethu Mbatha-Raw-born in England but ethnically South African). Talia gets him to ride with her gang, which includes her handsome, manly boyfriend, Dell (Wilmer Valderrama). Among the treats that bring the man back to life is a redecoration of his house feng-shue style, which means getting rid of the clutter, remodeling his person with hip threads, and allowing him to fit in quite well with students three decades younger.
As indicated, the picture suffers from overly-broad comedy. The Economic professor, Dr. Ed Matsutani (George Takei), is a crashing bore, his neighbor, Lamar, seems to make a living selling other people's stuff on his lawn, Ms. Tainot shows her indifference to teaching and especially to her husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston), with half-closed eyes and a look of contempt, and her husband, who doesn't work but watches porn with the excuse that "I'm a guy" is ridiculous and, like some of the other characters, not credible.
If location, location, and location are the three things that could make a business succeed or fail, then subtlety, subtlety, subtlety, could have turned this over-the-top comedy around.
Rated PG-13. 99 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online