He’s a mild-mannered everyman, a divorcé patiently working off a hefty home loan at the local Walmart knockoff. He’s too polite to complain when his supervisors coldly send him packing after years of tireless service. Even then he can barely conceal the spring in his step, the warmth in his smile.
He is Larry Crowne, the kind of guy who picks up trash off the sidewalk because it’s the right thing to do, as if making the world a more pleasant place is his life’s mission. He’s not quite perfect — he dresses like an off-duty cop, so he’s told, and he can’t pronounce “spectacular.” Chalk it up to his folksy charm.
Larry’s life is no box of chocolates, and audiences who’ve seen the trailers know exactly what they’re going to get; Hanks has played variations on this type before. Handsome but hardly pretty, sincere in every word and deed, he is this generation’s Jimmy Stewart. Here, he barely breaks a sweat.
“Larry Crowne,” which Hanks directed and co-wrote, will not be remembered for its ambition, but as a marketing ploy it’s a masterstroke — a breezy romantic comedy reuniting Hanks with “Charlie Wilson’s War” co-star Julia Roberts, and an adult alternative to adolescent fantasies like “Green Lantern” and “Transformers.”
But if it’s a hearty meal you’re craving, “Crowne” will likely leave you malnourished; it’s the cinematic equivalent of government cheese.
Told he needs a degree to climb the corporate ladder, Larry enrolls in community college, where he studies business and public speaking. He’s neck-deep in debt, and the bank eventually forecloses on his home, but Larry takes it all in stride. He has an uncanny knack for landing on his feet, and besides, he’s falling in love.
And why not? Mercy (Roberts), his public-speaking professor, is trapped in a dead-end marriage to a thoughtless buffoon (Bryan Cranston, of TV’s “Breaking Bad”) who idles away his days surfing for Internet porn. Once she kicks him to the curb, it’s only a matter of time before Larry makes his move.
Never mind that Hanks and Roberts share too little on-screen chemistry, or that all the factors complicating their lives — from Larry’s sudden unemployment to Mercy’s equally abrupt separation — are treated as inconsequential. “Crowne” has no significant interest in the realities facing a middle-aged man jobless and losing his home.
Instead, Hanks serves up an innocuous tale that treats personal tragedy as a premise for feel-good comedy. It’s a flawed proposition, doomed from the start, and not even Hanks, effortlessly charismatic as always, can sell it.