Everything’s gonna be OK is the theme of the slice-of-life Larry Crowne, directed by Tom Hanks directing his first feature film since That Thing You Do! (1996). If it sounds too simple, and it does, it’s because we already know that everything is not necessarily going to be OK in our collapsing economy and nobody told Mr. Hanks, a Hollywood star in his best live action role since the pre-war Cast Away (2000). Released by Universal Pictures and opening this Friday, Larry Crowne, starring Julia Roberts and Mr. Hanks, who is credited with writing the script with Nia Vardalos, is contrived and it lacks compassion. Ms. Roberts is unlikeable, as usual, as a community college teacher who hates her job for most of the movie.
Larry Crowne is, in its own way, interesting. There is a life transition in play, as the title character, a career Navy veteran fired from his retail job, tries to make his way following a divorce in the worst economy since the 1930s’ Depression. He lives in a suburban home that’s more involving than most of the characters, with years of storied stuff, including stacks of record albums and things in dark corners, yet the film ignores what he owns, focusing among other things on a callous black neighbor who thinks Crowne’s troubles are no big deal because he’s white. Crowne soldiers on, holding in feelings, which he never exactly expresses, until he enrolls in community college, rides a scooter to save money on gas, and starts selling his stuff. When centered on his makeover, which includes trimming his hair, adding a dash of color to his wardrobe, and tidying up around the house, Larry Crowne makes us care. So does Mr. Hanks in his performance.
But Larry Crowne feels forced and his starting over is too pat. A subplot involving a scooter couple falls flat and takes up half the movie. Roberts’ leggy teacher goes from dour, drunken and dreary to dazzling in an instant presto, after sparring with her unrealistically deadbeat husband, who seems to have wandered in from another picture. The problem with Larry Crowne is that, with its cheery scooter flash mobs, who go through town cleaning up livingrooms, giving people rides and separating garbage for recycling, it skips over the hard parts required to remake one’s life. Much better is what Larry and his young friend choose to do to improve themselves; learning new skills, gaining new knowledge, busting out early and opening new businesses born of goals, understanding metrics and balancing books, thanks to an economics course taught by George Takei. But there’s not enough of that, which is too bad because Larry Crowne’s life is at stake and we should feel something when he learns to let go, leave a mark on where he’s been, and get to where he’s going. It’s good to see Tom Hanks (Angels and Demons) back in something besides Da Vinci Code or Toy Story movies, but his Larry Crowne does not convince us that all is likely to be well in his world, let alone in ours. These days, everyone knows better, which puts this Tom Hanks everyman miles apart from today’s real, hard everyday life. (For a serious, more substantial look at men struggling to make a living, see The Company Men instead).