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Julia Roberts plays the love interest and teacher to Tom Hanks's character Larry Crowne.
Bruce Talamon HONS
Julia Roberts plays the love interest and teacher to Tom Hanks's character Larry Crowne.

Movie review: Larry Crowne

Starring Tom Hanks, Larry Crowne is an unimaginative attempt at a feel-good recession movie that smacks of a vanity project.

Larry Crowne
Director: Tom Hanks.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Proving that there's no situation so dire that it can't be fixed by a couple of Hollywood A-Listers and a musical montage, Larry Crowne is yet another misfired attempt to turn global economic woes into feel-good movie entertainment. After watching Ben Affleck learn the value of blue-collar life in The Company Men, and witnessing Michael Douglas discover a banker's soul in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, it's now the turn of everyman hero Hanks to find meaning and purpose in redundancy and downsizing.

"Manifest Destiny is taking you some place else!" coos a friend of the titular hero Crowne (Hanks), when he discovers that the latter's bank is foreclosing on his mortgage and tossing him out on to the street. The line, however, is not delivered with wry satire, but instead is a clarion call for Crowne to capitalise on his bankruptcy in every way possible - personally, emotionally, financially. Which, naturally, this being Hanks, he does.

Hanks, you see, also directed, produced and co-wrote Larry Crowne. And as such he imbues the project with the decency, kindness and sincerity that have become his trademark as an actor and a figure in Hollywood (from Forrest Gump to Toy Story).

Thus, from the moment we are introduced to the supermarket floor manager Crowne, to his instant dismissal from the company (he's a victim of corporate "restructuring"), to his decision to better himself by taking a community-college class called "The Art of Informal Remarks," right through to his tentative romance with his world-weary teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), everything is handled with a certain gee-shucks humility.

Which is fine when you're dealing with a cartoon cowboy from a billion-dollar toy franchise, but dramatic movies about the recession, no matter how supposedly funny and lightweight underneath, require a dead centre of steel that Larry Crowne simply doesn't have (and something such as the rare recession champ Up in the Air actually does). Instead, Crowne joins a zany gang of suburban scooter drivers who cruise suburban Los Angeles looking for antiques (no, really!).

He experiences his unemployment as refreshing, and it allows him to see the world anew (one of the scooter gang, Talia, played by Mbatha-Raw, even gives him a style makeover). Plus, everyone he meets inexplicably falls for his eager innocence, including the disgruntled teacher Tainot. In fact, there is not a single shred of real drama, tension, or conflict in Crowne's entire life - despite the fact that he's been fired and is fleeing his home.

Worse still, there are hints of the "vanity project" about Larry Crowne. As well as being adorable and Zen-like and boyish, Crowne is also a fabulous kisser who sweeps Tainot completely, and literally, off her feet (she almost collapses in amazement after their first kiss). Plus after a particularly barnstorming speech that Crowne gives in class, one of his fellow student gushes, just in case we didn't get it: "That was the best speech ever!" Which cannot but make you picture Hanks at the keyboard, bashing out the script as, "Then I give the best speech ever in class, and then someone says, 'That was the best speech ever!'"

Ultimately, the road to movie hell is paved with good intentions. Yet Larry Crowne's failure is not that it tried to make a feel-good movie out of unemployment, but that it did so with such mediocrity, and sheer lack of invention. In many ways, unforgivable.

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