People Like Larry Crowne Will be the Ones to Love Larry Crowne

Movie Review: Larry Crowne (2011) 
Summary: After losing his job, a middle-aged man reinvents himself by going back to college. 
Spoilers: none

Larry Crowne is one of those multi-genre romances that remind us of how not all good stories are necessarily worth watching.

But lest I speak too fast, let me say that determining what is “worth” watching and what is not is seldom an easy call. Larry Crowne has so much going for it, ensuring that opinions concerning it will remain divided.

The film introduces us to “Larry Crowne” (Tom Hanks) coming into work on an average day. Employed as a supervisor at Umart International Inc., Larry has made Employee of the Month a number of times and he’s proud of his accomplishments. His enthusiasm for the littlest jobs, like picking up trash in the parking lot and collecting stray baskets is store standard level.

Then Larry is fired in a company downsize maneuver that, as far as the story goes, could have used some better cushioning and explanation.

Right out of high school and into the Navy where he served as a cook, Crowne has had no formal college education. This is the excuse used to terminate him, with hints later in the film that this may not have been the real reason.

Without a family or a plan and in debt, Larry’s life has fallen apart, and there seems to be no easy solution. His back against the wall, he decides to do what he would never otherwise have considered doing and returns to community college to start all over.

There, he meets Communications teacher, “Mrs. Tainot” (Julia Roberts). Her lack of enthusiastic vibe is a dead-even match for Crowne’s life-altering depression, and she gets hers from a deadbeat loser of a husband (Bryan Cranston) loping around at home with a porn addiction that only fuels her frequent escapes into alcoholic drinks, but reinforces her hatred of both home and work.

The depressing and defeatest tone of the film is heralded till more than halfway through, but this tone is set by the internal battles within the characters. Tainot, for instance, feels like a fraud as she teaches a worthless community college intro-level course that most of us have probably had and can relate to as being practically worthless. Crowne, on the other hand, must enter a world full of 20-year-olds and sit in classes where he is older than everyone, and all but a few of his professors.

The character of Larry Crowne is resoundingly hard not to like. For one thing, he reminds us of the average fellow. They come sharper, better looking, and far more accomplished than he, but that comforts those of us who haven’t gone as far in life as we’ve wanted to. And like the rest of us, the Larry Crownes out there are subject to good and back luck. Things change for the better and worse without notice, and this makes us want to relate to him all the more.

But the same things that make him interesting work against him. Crowne is too average for a movie. He’s not outspoken enough. His life is only a little more interesting than watching paint dry. Is your life movie-worthy? My guess is, not without some serious dramatization and fudging for affect.

And yes, while there is something refreshingly cool about an old guy reinventing himself (think: American Beauty, 1999), this film isn’t rattling enough. It’s not climactic enough. The whole thing is more reflective than active. Crowne hooks up with a soft-pedal biker gang when he purchases his neighbor’s scooter with his fast-depleting funds, and with all this new time on his hands, cruises around with kids half his age.

In economics class, he makes friends with “Alvarez” (Roxana Ortega) and her boyfriend (Alex Quijano) who heads up the gang. Now he has a social niche to pair up with. Alvarez’s boyfriend and team leader is mildly suspicious of Crowne, but because Crowne is so out of everyone’s range, he has a disarming quality about him.

We continue to like Crowne, but while watching, continue to wonder why we are as fascinated with him as we are, and also why we are as under-whelmed with everything we’re seeing and still wanting to watch.

Crowne’s economics professor, “Dr. Matsutani” (George “Lieutenant Sulu” Takei) is the weirdest and the most egotistical character of all. Together with the slow-moving chain of events, this character is a prime example of humor that misses the mark. And a few things about the film miss their marks.

But if just barely, Larry Crowne succeeds by playing on its creative strengths—the chief of them being its characters and the way they interact and touch each other’s lives. It is sad to see Crowne driving away from his old neighbor, a sharp-tongued finagler, “Lamar” (Cedric the Entertainer), who is always having yard sales.

It is difficult to put a grade on a movie that aims so low while hitting so (comparatively) high, with its character moods and interactions accounting for nearly everything accomplished.

Tom Hanks himself directed the film. A little more of this and a little less of that and this could have been a better film. But even as it stands, Larry Crowne has something going for it. It just might be difficult to find the right audience, which, I believe, will consist of romance lovers who see themselves as Larry Crownes.


Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sexual content)
Director: Tom Hanks
Starring: “Larry Crowne” (Tom Hanks), “Mercedes Tainot” (Julia Roberts), “Samantha” (Sarah Mahoney), “Alvarez” (Roxana Ortega), “Dr. Matsutani” (George Takei), “Lamar” (Cedric the Entertainer), “Gang leader” (Alex Quijano)
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance