It's impossible not to like Larry Crowne, seeing as how it stars two of the most likeable movie stars of late-20th-century vintage. Tom Hanks is professionally adorable: It inspires absurd happiness just to see him gosh-darning his way through a movie. Julia Roberts merely needs to flash her megawatt smile to make you forget how aggressively meh a movie is.
Yet “aggressively meh” is the best way to describe Larry Crowne. It’s not a bad movie. It’s not a particularly good one, either. It feels calculated to be nice.
Too nice. So nice that you want to smack it. As the film opens, Larry (Hanks) is a happygo-lucky floor manager at “UMart.” Later we learn that he’s a 20-year Navy vet — so he probably has a military pension, which is why he
can afford to be so chipper about wearing a logo-emblazoned polo shirt every day while coping with the bargain-hunting public.
Anyway, just after Larry is set up as a happy guy who loves his crap job, he gets laid off in a way that could have turned into an all-out satire on corporate bullshit, even if only momentarily. But screenwriter-director Hanks and his co-scripter, Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), can’t quite figure out a way to make it sting.
So off goes Larry into a fleeting funk that’s lifted when he enrolls in community college — lack of a degree is supposedly what was behind his firing — and meets-cute with fellow adorable Talia (Gugu Mbatha- Raw). She instantly adopts him and gives his life a makeover. Then bored instructor Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) finally gets around to recognizing how adorable Larry is. (Larry’s in one of her classes.)
Mercy is deeply miserable in her work and in her marriage to writer Dean (Bryan Cranston). She sees Larry cavorting with Talia and makes a wrong — yet perfectly reasonable — assumption about them. “What do men see in irritating free spirits?” she moans.
You’ll want to commiserate, but alas, the movie has made its mission to demonstrate just how amazingly cool and inspiring Talia
is. When the inevitable romantic finale arrives, and Larry is telling Mercy that she, Mercy, changed his life, I’m out there in the audience going, “Um, no, Talia changed your life. Mercy’s been just been in the background the whole time, complaining about how miserable her own life is.”
In the end, then, Larry Crowne doesn’t even add up to the fluffy nonsense it wants to add up to. Still, one cannot deny the ineffable pleasure to be had just watching Hanks and Roberts do that thing they do.