Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A man with a scooter can accomplish anything

 Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

Ever since I got into films as a young boy and even before then I've always loved Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. My mother's VHS collection was comprised mostly of their movies so growing up I saw a lot of Big, Forrest Gump, My Best Friend's Wedding ect. I mean Disney played the biggest role in my life movie-wise growing up but I can quote Forrest Gump like a cheerleader can quote Bring It On. That said, besides Playtone and the work he's done with Spielberg, I haven't been a fan of his stuff behind the screen. He's a competent writer and director, but he's far from a Clooney or an Eastwood. So going into Larry Crowne, which was written, directed and starring him I was slightly worried. Despite having Julia there to star along side him and Nia Vardalos there to help with the writing I was still worried that it would be a well acted but poorly done movie.

Well Larry Crowne proved me slightly wrong...slightly. It's still a muddled mess for the most part and is almost so sweet it verges on being hokey, but the chemistry between Roberts and Hanks is undeniable and the acting is done well enough that you can almost overlook the glaring flaws in the writing and execution....almost.
 The story follows Larry Crowne, a Navy veteran who works at a big box store (a Wal-Mart rip off) and gets along with everyone. He's always happy, even after facing a crippling divorce which put him into tons of debt, and always looks out for everyone, sometimes to the detriment of others. He's a simple man, his only indulgence being records and he's best friends with his neighbors Lamar and B'Ella, who run a perpetual yard sale despite Lamar winning a Wheel of Fortune-esque game for 50,000 dollars. On the day he thinks he's winning his ninth consecutive Employee of the Month award, he learns that he is let go because he never went to college (he joined the Navy instead). After getting rejected by almost every employer seemingly known to man he decides to go to college where he meets two woman that change his life: Talia, a free spirit scooter enthusiast who tries to give Larry a fresh outlook on life and Mrs. Tainot (Roberts) an English/Speech teacher who has had it up to HERE with her job as well as her marriage.

It's a pretty formulaic story once it really gets going, and you can predict everything that happens ten minutes before it occurs, but the story is competently done and resolves in a way that will leave audiences mostly cheerful so I can't really fault it too much. Not every film is Citizen Kane so I got what I came for and liked it. That said the plot has a lot of weird pacing and unresolved issues going on. Subplots are picked up and dropped at random, bits almost seem missing from the movie and some scenes seem like they go on forever or that you blink and you miss them. Also most of the characters sans Crowne and Tainot are either underdeveloped or non-existent, even when giving their big time to speak. I know it's a Hanks cenric film but sometimes it feels like the scene from Mister Bean's Holiday with Willem Dafoe  Like everyone else gets nothing while him and Roberts get everything.
 All that aside, the acting is actually really well done. Despite always being maniacally happy for the most part, Hank's Crowne is actually a really compelling character at times. He is human and in between the smiles you can sometimes see glimpses of the cracks. He's funny, charismatic, and dammit he's lovable. It's really hard to hate Larry Crowne and Hanks is the main reason because of that. Behind the camera however he's still working out the bugs. There's never any REAL big goofs but I did catch a few continuity errors and framing issues spread throughout the film. Hanks' center is not a usual center you see in film and sometimes can be offset occasionally. But overall he did fine considering. Roberts is also as charming as usual although most of that charm is buried underneath a thick layer of apathy and disgust her character puts on for most of the film. She's likable even when she's mean and sometimes that smile comes out when you least expect it. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia also pretty well, along with her on screen beau Wilmer Valderrama.

The rest of the acting is really hard to judge though mostly due to the issues I mentioned before (the under or lack of any real development with the other cast members) but for the most part it's competent. There are no annoyingly bad actors and it's always nice to see George Takei and Bryan Cranston in movies despite their roles being fairly limited.
Overall Larry Crowne is an inoffensive, formulaic movie that is sometimes charming and funny, sweet as saccharine and has some good acting from it's two leads. It's brought down by its poor writing and lack of character development outside its two leads and can be eye rollingly cheesy at times but if you let yourself, you can have fun with it and you'll probably leave smiling. Maybe skip it in theaters but worth a weekend rental at least for sure.


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