Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Larry Crowne

Title: Larry Crowne

This Is A Romantic Comedy? If you're not too hung up on the definition of "comedy," sure.

Ew. Isn't Tom Hanks A Lot Older Than Julia Roberts? 11 years. Which in Hollywood means they might as well be twins.

Rating Using Random Object Relevant To The Film: One-and-a-half Vespas out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Model big box store team leader (Hanks) is let go thanks to his lack of a degree, and so enrolls in a local community college, where he joins a bunch of moped riders and develops a crush on his married speech professor (Roberts).

So It's Like Community? They are thematically similar, yes. Of course, the NBC show actually boasts wit, memorable characters, and the occasional original storyline.

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Larry is a Navy veteran, so we know he's a man of honor, and also a multiple "employee of the month" winner, so we know he's a dutiful worker. His firing therefore comes as a surprise, and he takes it hard until his neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) counsels him to go back to school. A daunting task for a middle-aged man who's never been to college. Fortunately, his path to matriculation is smoothed by fellow student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who introduces him to the joys of mopeds and hipster clothes. He also makes the acquaintance of Prof. Tainot (Roberts), who just might find in her oldish new student the passion that's been missing so long from her marriage and career.

Are You Serious? What? Doesn't that sound like something co-writers Hanks and Nia My Big Fat Greek Wedding Vardalos might whip up?

"Critical" Analysis: Leaving the Larry Crowne screening earlier this week, I almost hoped I'd just been the victim of an elaborate practical joke. Because if not, then Hanks and Vardalos are seriously trying to tell us the best way to dig ourselves out of economic hard times is with a shovel made of optimism and nose-polished grindstones.

By all rights, Larry should be screwed. He's underwater on his house, has little to no savings, and lacks an education. Undaunted, he pounds the pavement(!), want ads tucked under his arm, looking for another retail sales gig that will help him pay the mortgage. On his $390,000 home.

Hanks may be a two-time Academy Award winner for his acting roles, but his directorial education appears to begin with Frank Capra and end with Chris Columbus. Larry Crowne feels like it takes place in a Pleasantville version of America, where young people cruise on mopeds and thrift shop instead of binge drink and fornicate, hard work and a positive attitude always pay off, and if all else fails, helpful minorities will get you back on the right track (the film features two of what Spike Lee would call "magical negros:" wise comic relief Lamar, and free-spirited ingénue Talia).

Even Prof. Tainot's deadbeat husband Dean's (Bryan Cranston, for which I sincerely hope he was handsomely paid) shenanigans are laughable. Her anger at his spending the day looking at internet porn is understandable, until you realize the "porn" he's looking at are collections of bikini photos. For future reference, it's not pornography if you can find it on the newsstand at Target.

Hanks and Vardalos are obviously so far removed from anything resembling financial hardship they've utterly forgotten what it's like. In their minds, the recently unemployed simply dust themselves off and try a different venture. School, perhaps, which is magically paid for. Those unable to keep up their house payments can simply bail using a structured foreclosure and rent a perfectly lovely apartment in what is now certainly eviscerated credit. And if you need a source of income, surely one of your ex-military buddies will step up and offer you a job.

I'm not against feel-good movies as a distraction during hard times. They're absolutely necessary. What I'm opposed to are movies that appear designed to make us feel like failures as we leave the theater just because we're unable to miraculously reverse course in our (possibly) shitty lives. At best, Larry Crowne is laughably inept and anachronistic. At worst, it's propaganda.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: What do you think?

Larry Crowne is in theaters today. What are you doing going to the movies, loser? Get a job!

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar