“Larry Crowne” (Tom Hanks) is a really good guy.  Content in the knowledge that he’s done everything he’s supposed to do, Larry wears an upbeat, can-do smile on his face.  Surely, he’s earned a piece of the American Dream.

But in the opening moments of Larry Crowne, this solid citizen’s world falls to ruin.  He’s abruptly fired from his job as a team leader in a “Big Box” store, and attempts to get a new job prove futile.  He’s unable to renegotiate his mortgage because it’s already higher than his home’s actual value, and every trip to the gas station is a painful reminder of all the things he used to take for granted.

Larry enrolls in his local community college where he digs in and applies himself, burying his confusion and disappointment in the minutia of two classes: a tiny speech class (taught by Julia Roberts) and a huge economics class (taught by George Takei).  With advice from neighbors “Lamar” (Cedric the Entertainer) and “B’Ella” (Taraji P. Henson), Larry begins downsizing his home, while “Talia” (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), one of his fellow students, helps him update his look from middle-aged loser to hipster.  

Tom Hanks not only stars in Larry Crowne, he also directed it and co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos.  In the depth of the Great Recession, Hanks works really hard to convince us that this economic downturn is just a temporary blip. “Don’t give up,” he practically screams at us. “The best is yet to come!”  But it’s all for naught.

On Screen

Almost everyone in Larry Crowne’s large and talented cast is wasted, most especially Julia Roberts.  Her character, “Mercedes Tainot,” is supposed to be a Shakespeare scholar married to someone who was once a successful novelist (Bryan Cranston).  Presumably their dreams were destroyed long before the Great Recession, but since neither of them gets a compelling backstory, it’s hard to care.  And so the film moves inexorably to its inevitable conclusion: Larry and Mercedes starting a new life together cash poor but filed with hope.

We all want to believe in happy endings, but it’s hard to leave Larry Crowne with anything but diminished expectations.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are both Oscar-winners who used to commanded enormous salaries for every film, but Larry Crowne is not likely to restore either of them to these heights.  Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a huge Indie hit in 2002, but she’s done nothing of consequence since.   And so it goes down the line.

Only two people in Larry Crowne are actually fun to watch: Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a new face and she’s genuinely adorable as “Talia;” George Takei is an old face, ebulliently capitalizing on his years of playing “Sulu” (from Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek television cast from 1966 to Commander Sulu in all the subsequent big screen sequels).

What does all this say about the American Dream?  Alas, without intending to, Larry Crowne is telling us that our best days really are behind us.

On Set

Top Photo: Julia Roberts with Hanks & Rami Malek in a classroom scene from Larry Crowne.  Bottom Photo: Hanks & co-writer Nia Vardalos confer on set.  Photo Credits: Bruce Talamon/Copyright: © 2011 Vendôme International, LLC

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