Review of Larry Crowne

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Larry Crowne is the story of a man who reinvents himself by going to college after losing his job. Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Taraji P. Henson, Wilmer Valderrama, Nia Vardalos, and Bryan Cranston.
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-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2011
Directed by: Tom Hanks
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Romance

"Larry Crowne" is a comedy about a man who goes through an unexpected midlife crisis. Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Sarah Mahoney, the movie explores the way a settled, stable life can change in an instant. "Larry Crowne" is a sweet, gentle, and entertaining movie for the entire family.

The story opens on Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a middle-aged man who works at a large department store called U-Mart. Larry loves his job, and has spent the bulk of his adult life working there. In contrast with the traditional big-box store employee, Larry genuinely cares about his company and his customers, going so far as to pick up garbage from the ground outside of the store to preserve its image. All of Larry's dedication-and his numerous "employee of the month" awards-cannot save him from his fate, however. When a change in store policy requires that employees have college degrees to receive promotions, Larry is unceremoniously fired. Without warning, his world falls apart.

Larry, who doesn't have a wife or kids, is left to start over. His eccentric neighbors, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) and B'Ella (Taraji P. Henson), talk him into applying for a local community college. To save money, Larry sells his belongings, trades his car in for a cost-efficient-and somewhat ridiculous-scooter, and sets off into the world of academia.

College is a new world for Larry, who entered the workforce immediately after serving in the Navy. He soon falls in with an eccentric and loveable group of characters, including Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Dell (Wilmer Valderrama), members of a scooter gang. His new friends give Larry a makeover, just in time for him to meet a beautiful new professor, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). As Larry makes his way through community college, he transforms the lives of his friends and finds that his fate is considerably greater than a dead-end job in a big-box store.

"Larry Crowne" marks a career transition for both Hanks and Roberts, who have moved out of their years as romantic-comedy stars. Both actors play older, somewhat defeated characters. While Hanks has made a career out of playing ordinary people, Roberts is better known for playing dramatic, over-the-top characters. "Larry Crowne" gives her the opportunity to explore a new direction. Where most of the actress' characters tend to be lively and enthusiastic-making good use of her trademark smile-Mercedes Tainot is decidedly different. Roberts makes the most out of her character, lending great disdain and heavy sarcasm to each line. In fact, she is at her most delightful when she delivers cutting lines to her students and her husband.

Hanks is his usual endearing, likeable self. Larry Crowne is an everyman character, written to appeal to a wide variety of people. He is unfailingly kind and generous. Viewers who have been following Hanks' career may be surprised to see that he now falls definitively into the "middle age" category-a fact that is glaringly obvious in scenes with Larry's young friends. Hanks manages to translate his trademark charm into an age-appropriate character trait, however, and the result is endearing rather than pathetic. His reaction to the impromptu makeover is subtle but hilarious, and the scenes with the scooter gang are somewhat ridiculous and entirely entertaining.

Despite a low-key script, the combined star power of Hanks and Roberts lights up the screen throughout "Larry Crowne." The two can do no wrong, it seems. Hanks' bumbling sweetness and Roberts' unmistakable laugh brighten every scene, taking even the most mundane situations to a higher level. Although the movie is a departure from their typical blockbuster projects, it marks a graceful transition for both actors.

In addition to directing and starring in the movie, Tom Hanks wrote the screenplay, along with Nia Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" fame. The plot, though slow-moving at times, is sweet and entertaining. "Larry Crowne" is a genuine and realistic look at a small story. It treats each character with love and respect, even the smallest roles. In fact, one of the things the movie does best is present well-developed supporting characters. From Larry's yard-sale expert neighbors to his goofy college friends, each person is believable and entertaining.

Overall, "Larry Crowne" is a calm and quiet endeavor for both Hanks and Roberts, giving them the chance to explore the nuances of ordinary characters. The film flows easily, and is certain to provide an entertaining experience for older teenagers and adults.

Rating: 3 out of 5