Friday, 1 July 2011

Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks, US 2011

When I first saw the trailer to Larry Crowne, I had high hopes that Tom Hank's new stab at directing might actually turn out to be a feel-good movie with some relevance and, also, with some credibility. One that doesn't - as these films have a tendency to do - underestimate its audience by dismissing them with the felling that in actual fact, what they've just seen was yet another fairytale with a Hollywood ending.

Alas, I'm sorry to say, this is precisely what Larry Crowne is: A fairytale, and one that isn't even particularly well told.

It's a real pity, for a film that tackles the subject of economic depression and unemployment has long been overdue, but sadly, Hanks and his fellow-scriptwriter Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) have wasted a first-rate opportunity to comment on the world we live in, a world that is run by big corporations and where losing one's job is not just a dim possibility but a reality for many, including all its dire consequences.

Tom Hanks plays Larry Crowne, who is part of the security staff in a Walmart-like company. Because he has never been to college he is deemed expendable and so he is the first one to be let go. Eager to catch up on the college education he never had the privilege to enjoy, Larry enrols in a class that is supposed to teach him free speech. That is where the problem starts already. I would have thought that for a man in his early fifties, enrolling in such a class is of little help, if any. To succeed in the college-degree obsessed world of today - a fact which the film did well to point out - Larry would have been better off, in my opinion, to work towards a degree, one that offers a realistic chance of future employment. Julia Roberts plays Larry's teacher, Mercedes Tainot, and needless to say, they eventually end up falling in love. However, equally needless to say, they both have to go through the all too familiar ups-and-downs, required by the 'Hollywood-School-Of-Scriptwriting', before they're finally allowed their first kiss. This being a movie aimed at a somewhat more mature audience, a kiss is consequently all we get to see. Not that that would be of any importance. It is just another indicator of how predictable the screenplay is and to what extent it follows a pattern that has become at least as stale and as boring as Mercedes Tainot's marriage has become over the years - the perfect match, one should think, a disenchanted teacher and wife and a washed-up, middle-aged, security officer on the dole. Only that with all due respect to Julia Roberts - who to me remains one of the major attractions to come out of Hollywood within the past 25 years - theirs is not a relationship that's in any way believable. Unless you assume that following insult and humiliation by her husband, it is pure desperation that prompts Tainot to fall for Larry.

Tainot's marriage is thus another level where the film falls apart. While I concede that it may be possible to get bored with being married to even so beautiful a woman as Julia Roberts, accusing her, as her husband does, of not having 'big enough knockers' to hold his attention, is completely ridiculous. Since Larry Crowne never pretended to be a sequel to Scenes From A Marriage, the film can be excused for not delving into the marital problems of the Tainots, let alone discussing them at length. However, rendering these problems at least remotely believable is something that any film owes its audience. This lack of credibility is reflected in another sub-plot, involving a hip, trendy, 20-something girl, at least 30 years Larry's junior, he meets on his first day at college and who takes him under her wings to teach him how to dress, subsequently making him over entirely including even Larry's house. Stuff like this may happen in a fairytale, but I don't think I can be accused of cynicism if I say that this has little bearing on reality.

Having ripped this film apart, I have to say that Larry Crowne is at least entertaining - as long as you switch off your brain - and even has moments of which I simply wish there would have been more: interesting and also relevant comments on our society dominated by Facebook and Twitter rather than literature, as well as some scenes that expose the shenanigans of Larry's bank - or any bank, for that matter - which, his unemployment notwithstanding, still tries to squeeze a buck out of him. Unfortunately, the screenwriters either didn't think it worthwhile to make more of these points or else, didn't deem them 'box-office'. But focussing on these themes would have turned Larry Crowne from a run-of-the-mill Hollywood 'product' into an important social commentary.

And in times like these, an audience deserves those at least as much as fairytales.