Recently a colleague of mine hosted an event on his blog called “The Greater Good” in which he asked readers to pick a film that they would wipe off the face of the planet in order to better the movie industry as a whole. You know the concept: if “Grease” was never made, would I have been forced to live through 28 years of a non-talent like John Travolta parading his way across my film consciousness and prompting any number of murderous thoughts within my brain? Probably not. After seeing “Larry Crowne” I’m not entirely convinced that my entry into this event shouldn’t have centered on 2002’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” That was, after all, the film that launched the career of one Nia Vardalos, who is unfortunately responsible for the horrendous script that hamstrings “Larry Crowne” from the outset and attempts to drive a stake through the brain of every mild mannered audience member who happened to be stupid enough to put themselves through this mess.
Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is a long-time floor manager of a Wal-Mart-like superstore who happens to love his job. Due to the recession, however, his company begins downsizing redundant employees and because of Larry’s lack of a college education, he soon finds himself without a job. In order to make himself more marketable, he registers for some classes at a local community college. Here he meets a set of new friends, led by Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama), who share his passion for scooters and who attempt to revamp his image. He also meets Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), an alcoholic speech teacher in a failing marriage and an even less fulfilling job. The two strike up an awkward friendship that ultimately benefits them both in this story of revitalization and renewal in the face of adversity.
First off, I love Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. At one time or another, I would have listed them both as my favorite actor and actress respectively. Hanks is the classic All American Actor, the guy you root for at all times and who seems to genuinely understand his massive appeal. Roberts is the female version of Hanks, the beautiful girl next door who’s managed to remain a fan favorite for 20 years in an industry that forgets women the second they turn 35. I am always happy to see either of them on screen (unless it involves “The Da Vinci Code”) and despite the dip in productivity that each have experienced over the last decade, they can still get me out to a theater based solely on their names. I have long believed that you can’t make either of these great actors unlikable.
Well, I was wrong.
“Larry Crowne” is an absolute disaster in every sense of the word. None of these characters are in the least bit relatable or likeable. Tainot is an awful old bat that I pretty much hated the moment she stepped on screen. I’m all for a good redemption story and I understand that you have to start low to make the high more significant, but if this character had been hit by a bus in the tenth minute, I would have been fine. Larry himself is so thoroughly hapless that I just couldn’t bring myself to invest in him despite the numerous times my brain told me, “Come on dude, that’s Tom Hanks! You’ve got to love his character! It’s just a rule.” He is a painful mix of Forrest Gump (my least favorite Hanks film until now) and the kid from “Big” that comes across as wholly unbelievable. No one is this naïve. No one. The rest of the cast, which includes George Takei, Cedric the Entertainer, and Rob Riggle, ranges from totally worthless (Pam Grier) to cringe-worthy and one dimensional (Bryan Cranston, how in the name of “Breaking Bad” did you get talked into this role?!). That’s not even mentioning Mbatha-Raw who probably shouldn’t be allowed to act again. Shockingly, Valderrama gives the best performance of anyone in the film but in some ways, isn’t that all I need to say? The foreign dude from “That ‘70s Show” who has done absolutely nothing else of note in his career is the best part of this film. Ouch.
All of these retched characters are nothing, however, compared to the excessively cheery and somewhat pointless nature of the film’s narrative. There is no real humor in “Larry Crowne”, only watered-down jokes that might suffice on a middling CBS sitcom but don’t do the job in a feature film. The overt cheeriness goes hand-in-hand with Larry’s naivety but as I said before, this naivety is irritating, not endearing. Everyone is happy all the time (except for Tainot) and as a result there is no depth to the characters or the story. The events simply play out in front of the helpless audience instead of bringing them into the story. That’s not always a bad thing, I guess, but when you’re working with an extremely relevant topic like job loss, you’re wasting an opportunity to engross the audience. “Crowne” really doesn’t even make an attempt to do so and that is perhaps its most egregious offense.
In short, this film has Nia Vardalos’ fingerprints all over it. IMDB will tell you that Hanks co-wrote “Larry Crowne” with Vardalos but I don’t believe it for a minute. This mess has Vardalos’ fingerprints all over it: one note characters, a shallow plot, and abysmal dialog. That’s all Vardalos has treated us to since “Greek Wedding” scored $350 million at the box office and I was willing to accept that she would always be involved with horrible movies that I would simply stay away from. But now that she’s infected the glorious careers of both Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts…well, I think I’m ready to preserve the greater good and rid the world of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and everyone who had anything to do with it. Since I’m out of plutonium, however, I’ll just have to implore you, dear readers, to stay away from “Larry Crowne” and pretend you’ve never heard of Nia Vardalos.
I never liked that movie in the first place,