It’s difficult to imagine actors upstaging both Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks but that’s what happens in the new film “Larry Crowne.” Starring the two Oscar winners, the light-hearted comedy features several lesser-known stars in small roles that overshadow the two leads. Although the story has a few issues, “Larry Crowne” is a likeable and light-hearted film that doesn’t have aspirations to be anything more.
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Tom Hanks, who also directed the film and co-wrote the story with Nia Vardolas, stars as Larry Crowne. Crowne is a “valued” employee at a UMart retail store who is fired early on in the story by a managerial committee. It seems the “U” in “UMart” might stand for university because Crowne is terminated because he didn’t go to college. He had enlisted in the Navy immediately after high school but the company doesn’t care about that.
To ensure that he would never again be fired for not going to college, Crowne enrolls in a local community college.
In college, he enrolls in a class entitled “The Art of Informal Remarks,” which is taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). Tainot is a mildly disgruntled professor who celebrates canceling her classes when there aren’t enough students. She is unhappily married to a writer (Bryan Cranston), who spends much of his time looking at online porn. The scenes of Tainot’s desperate home life drag down the story but fortunately, there aren’t too many of them. In a story that is meant to be lighthearted and fun, the slow destruction of their marriage provides unnecessarily dramatic moments. Cranston, who previously showed off his comedic abilities in “Malcolm in the Middle,” is completely wasted here.
The film comes alive during its numerous classroom scenes. Along with a few laughs provided by the motley crew of characters that compose the “Informal Remarks” class, there are a few laughs provided by George Takei, a slightly off-kilter economics professor. Early on, there are several short scenes from both classes that make the film feel like a mish-mash of short “SNL” sketches but most of these short scenes are quite funny.
There is a nice little sideplot involving Crowne’s friendship with a free-spirited college student named Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who helps Crowne see how “cool” he can be. Talia’s boyfriend (Wilmer Valderrama) doesn’t like the budding relationship though. Valderrama, previously known for his work on “That 70’s Show,” proves that he can be funny here and, along with Takei, steals the show.
The focus point of the story is the relationship between the two leading characters who find what they are looking for in the other person. This main plot line, though, feels weak compared to some of the great characters in the supporting cast. Still, “Larry Crowne” is worth watching for a few laughs and a decent story at its heart.