Saturday, July 2, 2011

Larry Crowne

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB (A-III) Roger Ebert (2 stars) Fr Dennis (2 ½ Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

Larry Crowne (directed and co-written by Tom Hanks along with Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame) is a gentle movie about a gentle man, Larry Crowne (played by Tom Hanks) who gets downsized by a big-box retail chain (in the movie called Umart) despite being a longtime exemplary employee because he never went to college (instead, he had 20 years in the Navy right out of high school).  Without some college education, by company policy Larry could never be promoted, so the company let him go.  (I simply don’t understand the logic, because Larry didn’t appear to be looking for a promotion being happy where he was.  But there it is, and this kind of corporate logic is unfortunately going to hurt an awful lot of people in the coming years.  First, there are people like Larry Crowne who since time immemorial have held _and succeeded_ in jobs involving great responsibility without having a college degree (and where are people who are good, honest, hardworking but simply may not be bright enough to get a college degree supposed to go?) and second, is it really in society’s interest to have highly educated employees sorting clothes and stacking boxes at “Umarts?”)

However, Larry’s sudden and yes “painful” downsizing sets up the rest of the story.  He finds that without some college he can’t get a job in retail elsewhere.  He has a house and a SUV like car and isn’t sure how he’s going to pay it all.  To be sure, he’d probably have a Navy pension and would be eligible for unemployment compensation for some time.  Still, like millions of others in his shoes, the job loss was going to cause him problems.

So Larry decides to go take some courses at the local community college.  Realizing that he can’t bleed money into his SUV’s gas tank any more, he buys his neighbor’s motor scooter.  And in a gentle way, he makes new friends, notably with a 20-something student named Talia (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and later with one of his teachers, Mercedes Tainot (played by Julia Roberts). 

To be sure, I found the developing romance between Larry and Ms Tainot (becoming Merci at some point) to be the most difficult part to accept in the whole movie. 

And to the movie’s “pc” (?) credit, the romance _isn’t_ “consummated” in any way during the course of Larry’s semester as Ms Tainot’s student, and isn’t really consummated by the end of the film either.  But I did find _this whole aspect of the movie_ burdensome from the beginning.  I do believe it would have been better to have had Larry meet some 40-something single/divorced woman (perhaps even played by Nia Vardalos, or perhaps having her play the role of the teacher leaving Roberts with the role of the love interest).  This student would certainly _also_ have "a story" but I'd just find it better to go that route than go the route of the “student - teacher” relationship.  

Yes, Ms Tainot _did have her own story_ and her own marital problems that were interesting in their own right – Tainot’s husband, Dean Tainot (played by Bryan Cranston) “working at home” while she was teaching classes at the community college, was falling ever deeper into internet porn addiction.  And she herself was drinking ever more heavily, coming home each evening to her large kitchen blender, ice, rum and daiquiri mix.  All this was well portrayed. 

But the romance between Larry / Ms Tainot felt suspiciously like male “wish fulfillment” again, and in a movie that otherwise is so beautifully gentle, low-key – hey, I’m a priest, ‘low key’ and ‘gentleness’ (and the occasional Barney Miller style ‘walk-in’ ;-) make-up parish life most days – I found it a shame that the screen-writers (Hanks / Vardalos) decided on taking the movie in such a needlessly “Hollywood” direction.

Still, I generally liked the movie.  I just wish that it had avoided that “romance” which in my mind was needlessly problematic.

Finally and certainly far more positively, all kinds of the bit characters in this movie definitely deserve mention.  Larry’s neighbors Lamar (played by Cedric the Entertainer) and his wife were great as were the “slightly megalomaniacal”  economics professor Dr. Matsutani (played by George Takei) and Talia’s somewhat jealous “biker” err “motor-scooter riding” boyfriend Dell Gordo (played by Wilmer Valderamma).  Nia Vardalos also does an “audio cameo” as the voice of Ms Tainot’s GPS device.

All in all, this was not a bad movie, just that, in my mind, it could have been a better one if they had stayed away from the teacher-student romance theme and thus added one more character to the story.

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