It is a known fact within the movie industry that the clout of a major star can get a project to the screen that under other circumstances would have trouble getting made. Tom Hanks has expanded his remit over the last decade or so. He has taken on the role of producer on several film and television projects and has one director credit for the moderately successful movie That Thing You Do. For the 2011 film, Larry Crowne, he combines the roles of actor, producer and director. Is this a case of a single vision creating a successful film or an artist stretching himself to the limits?
Larry Crowne is a man who is compelled to face an uncertain future. A former Navy cook, he has been a happy and highly efficient long term supervisor for a large Supermarket chain store. He is popular and personable. Unfortunately he does not meet the educational requirements to make him a viable candidate for internal promotion. Instead he is deemed surplus to requirements and made redundant. After an initial panic, Larry chooses to go back to school and get a qualification behind him. To this end, he enrolls in the local community college. Opening him up to a whole host of new experiences, Larry’s life is about to be changed radically.
Unsurprisingly this is a role that is a perfect fit for Hanks. For a vanity project, it would be all too easy to cast himself in a role that would make him appear better than he is in terms of smarts or looks. Instead he builds on his previous work where in a number of roles he came across as a normal guy with a persona that can be tied to by the majority of the audience. This has served him well especially in romantic comedies such as this. As one of the writers of the film, he has ensured he is able to play to his strengths. The outcome is the fact that the character of Larry is instantly familiar to the audience. This doesn’t have a negative impact on the enjoyment of the film at all as the you know where you are right away.
There is a strong supporting cast which adds depth to the movie. Julie Roberts shares the lead role duties as Mercedes, a lecturer at the college. She is an accomplished actor with proven comedic timing. Roberts is called upon to switch between drama and comedy on several occasions during the film which she handles with great skill. Her husband, Dean, played by Bryan Cranston is the basis of most of her issues. A writer who has been ‘researching online’ for a number of years without actually producing anything. I have yet to find a less than stellar performance from Cranston and this relatively minor role he handles with ease. George Takai is a stand out in his small role as an economics lecturer. He is dry and humourless in his delivery and is all the better for it. A highlight of the film.
The film has a few serious themes that are treated in an entertaining and a perhaps a bit of a lighthearted way. By that I mean that the positive elements are to the fore rather than issues being dismissed or ridiculed. The economic downturn experienced over the last few years is among the main drivers for the plot. It highlights the problems faced by middle aged people who are not used to the flip side of the American dream. There is such an emphasis on how we tend to define ourselves by our properties and our material possessions in life. Over the course of the film, this is explored with Larry being forced to shed one material item after another and the place in society for re-use and recycling of things.The other core theme follows on from this. It deals with the worth of people who are deemed no longer viable to enrich a society. Through the character of Larry, we explore what it is like to be seen as surplus to requirements both professionally and romantically. His example is a viable way for people to re-invent themselves and gain an amount of self worth.
The only problem with the film is the over familiar way the story is told. It is bright and cheery and almost constantly upbeat. There is no real tension, but this can be forgiven as it never strives to be anything other than a romantic comedy. The direction by Hanks is clean and efficient. There are no stylistic to show off the director’s skill which can be seen as a distraction in most cases. Hanks allows the film and the story to speak for itself. Given that this a Tom Hanks project on so many levels it is impressive that other characters are so well developed. A good portion of screen time is given over to characters that could be classed as marginal.
Overall this is a pretty good movie. You pretty much know what you are getting with Larry Crowne, but that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of the film. Recommended.