June 30, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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LARRY CROWNEWatch It At HomeGiant Stars/Tiny Ambitions


Allow me to play Nostradamus for a moment.  the day will come–and it’s not far off–when you’ll be sitting in front of your TV set, remote in hand (or maybe you’ll be looking at your online streaming site, the vision is a little blurry).  In any case, you’ll be going through the available titles, and among them will be LARRY CROWNE.  Oh that one, you’ll think:  with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.  You’d sorta thought of seeing that.  So you’ll turn it on, and for 99 minutes, you’ll chuckle a little bit, you’ll feel moderately good when (spoiler alert) the stars fall for each other, and more than once you’ll find your attention drifting and have to direct it back to the screen.  When it’s over, you’ll think:  that wasn’t so bad.  And half an hour later, if someone asks you what you’ve watched lately, you’ll have a hard time even remembering the title.


Larry Crowne is unfailingly, even insistently, amiable and positive, and yet there’s something hollow about it.  It’s clearly a project that Tom Hanks cares about passionately–he’s not just the star, he co-wrote the script (with My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Nia Vardarlos), serves as one of the producers, and chose it as his first feature directing vehicle since That Thing You Do! in 1996–but none of that passion shows itself on screen.   He’s telling the story of a middle-aged man who finds that losing his job and attending classes at a community college brings him new, young, vibrant friends (including Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wilmer Valderrama), true love (with guess who) and a renewed commitment to life; the movie feels like it could have been made by George Clooney’s character in Up In the Air for the scene where he convinces J.K. Simmons that downsizing can be a good thing.

As a filmmaker, Hanks is professional enough, but he showed more of an eye, more sense for pacing and rhythm, and certainly more interest in performance detail, in That Thing You Do! 15 years ago.  Larry Crowne‘s supporting cast, which also includes George Takei, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson and Bryan Cranston, play sitcom level characters, and the plotting by Hanks and Vardarlos is lazily slack.


When Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts want to charm you, goddamn it, they’re going to do it, so Larry Crowne is enjoyable enough in its negligible, disposable way.  No one does bumbling good-heartedness or sudden the-sun-just-came-out! grins like Hanks and Roberts.  But these are parts that could have been filled just as well by Peter Krause and Julie Bowen; and really, Krause and Bowen might have brought more reality to the story than these people who’ve been mega-stars for more than 20 years. There’s a sense in which watching Hanks and Roberts play “ordinary people” is like an all-star episode of Undercover Boss–Hanks and Roberts have done so many movies from inside their movie-star bubble, with no relation to real life, that for them, “ordinary” is a character part.

That, I think, is why there’s something slightly smug and complacent about Larry Crowne.  It was one thing when Hanks portrayed the music world in That Thing You Do! as a glossy fantasy of the 1960s, because his protagonists were young and new to stardom.  But middle-aged men who lose their jobs, and in the case of Roberts’ character, women who are unsatisfied by their professions and stuck in lousy marriages, recognize their own pain.  That’s a pain Hanks doesn’t care to acknowledge, so Larry Crowne barely misses a step on his way to fulfillment.  Consequently, his serenity feels easy and unearned.  Larry Crowne was made by tycoons who don’t even know how out of touch they are; it’s entertainment for the little people.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."