I was all set to hate Larry Crowne. I thought it was trying to be a highbrow Billy Madison only it wouldn’t really have the balls to be that. It would have to be important and poignant, right? No, it actually is a highbrow Billy Madison! This is Hanks’ return to wacky comedies like Turner & Hooch!
Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) gets fired from U-Mart. He can’t get a good job since he skipped college to join the Navy, so he goes back to community college. Mercy Tainot (Julia Roberts) teaches his secondary level speech course so he learns to come out of his shell, along with the help of all his wacky classmates.
I’ll admit, the first impression is not good. It already looks bad on paper and even the first act just makes you defensive, like this movie’s going to annoy you with quirk. Damned if the quirk wasn’t genuine though. I know a lot of my colleagues hated it. Maybe they went to the bathroom during the part where it wins you over so they sat through the rest thinking it was still annoying.
Every oral report Tainot assigns is basically a sketch comedy montage. The characters do the rest. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is so adorable you forgive her having to play Talia as one dimensionally sassy. Talia’s so perky she names Larry Lance and gives him a new wardrobe. Talia’s biker boyfriend Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama) snaps his fingers like West Side Story. Steve Dibiasi (Rami Malek) thinks clairvoyant is someone’s name. Dave Mack (Malcolm Barrett) always gives the funniest reports. His Star Trek fandom manages to be funny even though we’ve seen that joke before. It’s the context and sincerity.
Roberts gives her best performance in a decade. She embraces the bitter, burnt out professor, putting real character into Mercy’s dirty looks. Bryan Cranston infuses so much character into her husband Dean, three scenes are all he needs. Hanks plays it really goofy, slow talking and bumbling on his scooter.
I’ve been waiting for a movie to go loose with its plot and just focus on the experience. We all know the same old structure. Larry’s going to get together with Mercy, you don’t need to construct an Inception plot to convince us that it works out. Larry Crowne focuses on the individual moments. I know, Tree of Life did that too, but that was about an abusive father and this is about a middle-aged dude going back to college.
I think Larry Crowne captures the nostalgia Super 8 failed to. Larry’s nostalgia isn’t for early childhood, it’s for the college phase of starting one’s adult life. So Larry can’t repeat elementary school but they can cram all those random whimsical encounters into a young adult setting.