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Larry Crowne

Hanks in the Director Seat

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

It was 1996, and Tom Hanks’ directorial debut That Thing You Do hit the screens. It seemed like Hanks was finally ready to go from actor to auteur, but that didn’t really happen and That Thing You Do felt like a one-time deal. Now, here we are 15 years later and he’s finally following up with his sophomore effort. It’s hard to call it a “sophomore slump” with such a lengthy break between projects, but Larry Crowne isn’t anywhere near as infectious as his debut.

Still, the film has its charms, and even if the story has faults, Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks have enough chemistry onscreen to pull us through. Co-written with Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), it’s a film about starting over much later than one would prefer. That’s what Larry Crowne (Hanks) is forced to do after he’s fired from his job at UMart for not having a college degree and decides to go ahead and get one at a local college.

Fighting mounting debt and depression, he signs up for a speaking course taught by the similarly despondent Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). But as Larry finds a new lease on life at school, owing mainly to new friend Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who welcomes him into a moped “gang” and gives him a hipper wardrobe, Mercedes finds herself at her wit’s end. She’s finding it harder and harder to care about the fewer and fewer students showing up to class, and those who do are always on their phones. She also stuggles with her insensitive and lazy husband (played by the underutilized Bryan Cranston).

It’s with Talia, her boyfriend Dell (Wilmer Valderama) and their group of friends that Larry realizes he’s not at the end, just a new beginning. Hanks plays the part well and with subtlety, even if the film comes off as a bit too sweet and isn’t as clever as intended. There’s not much depth but its supporting characters, especially George Takei as an Econ professor, help fill in the gaps.

Mercedes and Larry’s budding romance is rightly underplayed and almost an afterthought of the film, giving the relationship real credence. Even with such subtlety, Hanks and Roberts are true thespians and create real tension that’s refreshing for modern day rom-coms. This type of romantic comedy is mostly absent from the screen these days, trading in the sweetness for the raunchy, but Larry Crowne plays like the type of film Hanks and Roberts would have found themselves in during their peaks in the 90’s. Only now they’re middle-aged.

It’s far from their best work, and the film itself is far from perfect, but it proves that Hanks is very capable on and off the screen. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make us wait so long for the next one.