Watching Bad Teacher bummed me out, but Larry Crowne boosted my spirits considerably. Because I've been a teacher for a good part of my life, I tend to pay close attention to movies with teachers as main characters. While not expecting these people to be perfect, of course, I want the portrayals to feel genuine -- even in comedies. Unfortunately, the ultra-raunchy Bad Teacher features Cameron Diaz (who usually nails comic roles) as a teacher so gross that suspending disbelief became impossible for me. In contrast, although the teacher Julia Roberts plays in Larry Crowne engages in some similar behavior to the one in Bad Teacher, her character comes across as a real person dealing with real problems.
Tom Hanks directed, co-wrote (with Nia Vardalos) and stars with Roberts (Eat, Pray, Love) in Larry Crowne, a romantic comedy that deals sensitively with serious issues like downsizing, second chances and losing passion for living. Hanks, in the title role, earns our empathy right away as he tries to tidy up the parking lot at the big-box store where he works. Clearly, this guy must be enthusiastic about his job. Imagine Larry’s dismay when he is fired. Does that mean he’s a bad employee? No, Larry has even been named “Employee of the Month” nine times. But he’s never attended college, and new company rules require more than high school graduation for advancement.
Loss of a job isn’t Larry’s only problem. As a result of his divorce, he’s suffered a severe financial setback. No wonder this middle-aged man begins to lose his optimistic outlook! But things change for Larry when he enrolls in a community college and signs up for “The Art of Informal Comments,” a speech class taught by Mercedes Tainot (Roberts). Mercedes is going through a bad patch of her own. Once passionate about teaching, she’s not happy with her classes or her online- porn-addicted husband (Bryan Cranston). Through scenes showing Mercedes drinking heavily and disrespecting her students, it becomes clear how disengaged she’s become.
To me, the highlight of Larry Crowne involves the way Larry, the other community college students (a motley bunch, for sure!) and Mercedes impact each other’s lives for the better. Plus there are some very funny and delightful classroom speeches here, folks! It’s also a treat to watch Roberts’ splendid acting as Mercedes slowly transforms into an enthusiastic teacher once more -- as well as to see the amorous rapport developing between Mercedes and Larry.
A fine supporting cast helps make Larry Crowne a highly entertaining movie. Standouts are Wilmer Valderrama, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Cedric the Entertainer, Rami Malek, and George Takei. Valderrama projects an impressive screen presence as the severe-looking leader of a motor-scooter brigade who’s quite different on the inside. Mbatha-Raw is charming as a free-spirited student; Cedric the Entertainer steals a couple of scenes as a “yard sale” haggler; Malek evokes lots of laughs in the role of a student who always takes the easy way out with his speech assignments; and Takei seems to be having a ball as a pompous economics professor.
Director Hanks (That Thing You Do) moves the story along with an appropriate pace, allowing some scenes to run longer than many current filmmakers would dare to do. For example, although some viewers may find the “firing” scene a bit too drawn out, it helps us understand the roller coaster of emotions Larry must be feeling. Fortunately, actor Hanks (Angels and Demons) performs brilliantly here. Larry starts out as a happy worker when first called in to meet with the VIPs -- but walks out a devastated one when the meeting ends, and Hanks makes us believe all his feelings every step of the way.
Despite the important problems dealt with in this film, Larry Crowne is an old-fashioned feel-good movie -- and I’m not ashamed to say I loved it.
Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start over now and make a brand new ending. --- Carl Bard
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for brief strong language and some sexual content.)
For more information about Larry Crowne, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.