Posted by: C.E. Chambers | July 23, 2011


theatrical release poster

This film is an enjoyable light comedy that doesn’t pretend to try to solve the world’s problems, nor does it solve all of Larry Crowne’s problems.  He’s a divorced man who loses his job and can’t afford to pay his mortgage.  At the end of the movie, even though he has had to greatly “downsize,” hope has unexpectedly entered his life on numerous levels and we know he’s going to be okay, if not better than before.

The casting director, Jeanne McCarthy, made some brilliant choices, so much so that three actors steal many of the scenes out from under the noses of popular leading stars Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts: George Takei, Wilmer Valderrama, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

George Takei, well-known as Sulu in the original “Star Trek” television series, plays a rather eccentric economics professor.  He’s a little stuffy and maybe even haughty but has some of the best lines in the film.  His wonderful sense of comedy and exquisite timing are a delightful surprise, a validation of my long-held belief that his talents have been underutilized for decades.  By movie’s end he’s waxing poetic in that signature deep voice of his about the “rocky shoals” and “tsunamis” of finances, making me want to sign up for his class.  (I’m surprised he wasn’t asked to do the voicing for one of the “Transformers” robots.)

Wilmer Valderrama, who used to play in the TV sitcom, “That ‘70s Show,” is that rare actor who oozes charisma without uttering a word.  It’s a good thing he has this ability as his character, Dell, mostly broods silently over Larry Crowne’s relationship with his “free-spirited” girlfriend.  His dark-haired, dark-eyed good looks don’t hurt one bit (he’s an American of Colombian-Venezuelan heritage).

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a fresh-faced, radiant beauty who plays an upbeat college student named Talia who befriends Larry.  Only rarely does an actor come along whose soul seems to illuminate the screen, and she’s one of them.  (She’s English and South African.)  Her interaction with Larry is rather implausible – a stunning young woman flirting with a much older, dorky man — but her performance is relaxed and engaging.  Expect a lot more from her.

These three people, along with another professor, figure predominantly in Larry’s life after he’s laid off from a mega store called U-Mart.

Larry had enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school and had sailed around the world five times, but is a man in his fifties without a degree.  Not wanting to be laid off again for lack of a higher education, he enrolls in a community college.  The Dean of Student Services encourages him to take a Speech 217 class that’s presided over by Professor Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts).

Larry can’t afford to pay the gas in his SUV any longer so he purchases a used motor scooter from his neighbors and close friends, Lamar and B’Ella (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson).

Tom meets the very attractive but much younger student named Talia during his first morning at college.  She sees him later in her Economics class and, choosing a seat next to him, says, “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”  Viewers who might be thinking that Larry’s a little long in the tooth for such a vision of loveliness needn’t worry: Talia invites him to join her “gang” – a motley crew of motor scooter enthusiasts — and it’s presided over by her protective boyfriend, Dell.

Talis has a mothering instinct that won’t quit.  She demands that Larry change his hairstyle, redecorates his home according to the dictates of feng shui, and completely changes his wardrobe.  She also breaks his nerdy glasses and hands him another pair that fits perfectly.  (Only in Hollywood.)

Larry’s public speaking professor, Mercedes, is smart and kind of hip, loves Shakespeare, and wears attractive dresses and stiletto heels.  Would she have become attracted to Larry if he hadn’t traded his horizontal-striped Polo shirts for a black leather jacket and a silver wallet-chain on his pants?  She’s disenchanted with teaching; she agrees with another professor that Facebook and Twitter have killed off students’ attention spans.

Mercedes has a lout of a husband who’s a professor-turned-writer-turned-blogger who’s addicted to web porn.  Mercedes grimly drowns her dashed hopes in slushy alcoholic drinks.  It’s only when her husband complains that he likes “big knockers” and tells her “you don’t have any” that she has a meltdown.  And makes a drunken pass at Larry.

Meanwhile, Larry discovers he has an aptitude for academics.  As his economics professor, Dr. Matsutani (George Takei) frequently and rather dramatically reminds his students: “Master my course pack and you will take over the world.”

Most of the characters in this film are very likeable, a welcome novelty in contemporary movies.  It’s fun to watch the blasé students in Larry’s speech class come to life as they learn to participate in “pop topics” and “fake debates.”  Larry’s hilarious proficiency with a Map Geni will hit home with a lot of viewers who struggle with their GPS.  However, other scenes are rather contrived and maybe even too convenient to be realistic.

Three of the characters, including Larry, are military vets (Navy, Coast Guard, Marines), and none of them are depicted as incompetent, emotionally skewed, or evil-to-the-max.  Kudos to Tom Hanks who produced, directed and co-wrote this film; the other writer was Nia Vardalos (writer and actor,” My Big Fat Greek Wedding”).

Afterward:  Larry, played by Tom Hanks, makes frequent references to the “tough times,” meaning the American economy — but these words aren’t uttered with any real conviction.  Here’s a chart from IMDB (Internet Movie Database) that gives an idea of the money that actor Tom Hanks takes home after making a film.  Yes, that really does say “$40,000,000” for “Saving Private Ryan.”  If it takes another $40,000,000 to portray U.S. soldiers as courageous and self-sacrificing, he has my full blessings.

Toy Story 3 (2010)                $15,000,000
Angels & Demons (2009)       $50 000 000
The Da Vinci Code (2006)      $18,000,000 + profit participation
Cast Away (2000) $20,000,000
The Green Mile (1999) $20,000,000
Toy Story 2 (1999) $5,000,000
You’ve Got Mail (1998) $20,000,000
Saving Private Ryan (1998) $40,000,000+ (gross and profit participations)
Toy Story (1995) $50,000
Forrest Gump (1994) $70,000,000 (gross and profit participations)
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) $5,000,000
The ‘burbs (1989) $3,500,000
Punchline (1988) $5,000,000
Big (1988) $1,750,000
Splash (1984) $70,000
He Knows You’re Alone (1980) $800

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