Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are in a romantic comedy together and it’s called Larry Crowne.
That’s all the marketing you need. Two of Hollywood’s most beloved actors reuniting (if you count Charlie Wilson’s War) and gracing the silver screen with their easy smiles and familiar faces (we’ll get to that in a sec).
There’s already a built-in audience ready to plan their weekend around the film; the actual story and script are almost inconsequential. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what seems to have happened, even with Hanks sitting in the director’s chair and co-writing the screenplay with Nia Vardalos, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.
The titular Larry (Hanks) gets let go from his job and told it’s because of the glass ceiling. So Larry enrolls in the local community college and Mrs. Tainot (Roberts) just so happens to be his teacher (what a surprise!).
Through his unlikely friendship with a young co-ed named Tania (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and after Mrs. Tainot has had enough of her shiftless husband with a fondness for soft-core internet erotica (Bryan Cranston), the pair of them begin to make goo goo eyes at each other. Cue the instructions in your basic screenwriting 101 handbook and you’ve got yourselves a movie (technically).
On the positive side, some of the supporting cast turn in appealing performances. Mbatha-Raw lights up the screen and her character’s zest for life is infectious. George Takei plays an economics professor and is the only consistent source of laughs in the whole ordeal. And while Pam Grier isn’t given anything to do by the script, just the idea that Foxy Brown could be your teacher is pretty bad ass.
Others actors don’t do as much to elevate their thinly written characters. Cedric the Entertainer fails to live up to his stage name and instead comes off as a slightly offensive caricature. Taraji P. Henson has nothing to do here but read a dozen lines of poor dialogue and make us marvel at the power Hanks obviously wields behind the scenes to get such a good actress to commit to a thankless part. And the aforementioned Bryan Cranston has his comedic talents completely wasted underneath a shallow attempt to make him unlikeable so no one balks at the idea of the married professor developing feelings for her eager, and oh-so-charming, student.
This brings us to the leads; Hanks and Roberts. Visually, there’s something wrong with both of them. Either Hanks has had some plastic surgery done or the lighting and make-up department hate him; and almost every time Roberts is on-screen, she’s shot in a close-up with a super soft focus … only hand-drawn arrows and flashing text could make it more obvious that the goal is to hide any imperfections at whatever cost.
As far as their acting, neither seems to be doing any. At this point in their careers, it appears that being movie stars is enough for them and that they don’t see the point in channeling characters that conflict with audience expectations of who they are in their public life.
Part of this is on them but much of it comes back to a script that at best can be described as lazy; no one seemed to think that people would care if their relationship was developed and three dimensional. All that seems to really matter is that audiences get a safe, sterile film and the happy ending they need in order to feel their money was well spent.
By the skin of her very large teeth, Roberts holds onto a basic likability and Hanks phones in his effort as if he had a dinner reservation to get to. Without the general appeal of its actors, Larry Crowne would fall flatter than a steamrolled pancake but if you’re burned out on Tom and/or Julia, this is the last thing you want to see. The whole production lacks inspiration and is only for those out there with a serious addiction to the genre.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual content.
Larry Crowne hits theaters on July 1, 2011.