Tom Hanks' Larry Crowne feels like it used to be something else. It arrives in theaters an outrageously misshapen, tone-deaf, and entirely grating experience. It's so clunky it starts to feel like it was once a musical, like James L. Brooks' I'll Do Anything, but all the musical numbers were pulled out. At other times it feels like it was once a Walter Mitty-style affair, but the allegedly fanciful daydream sequences have been transposed over to "real life."
Larry Crowne wants to be Frank Capra, but it has nothing to say. As light and fluffy as some of Capra's films were, they all had some sort of sincere heart, legitimate good humor, and (oh yes) a point. As a huge fan of Mr. Hanks (and his directorial debut That Thing You Do!) it pains me to say that Larry Crowne has none of those things. It's a limp, lethargic and lazy piece of movie star uplift, one that will be more than content to appeal to grandmas and grandpas who simply like looking at movie stars, regardless of how mawkish, rote, and aimless their vehicle is.
Written by Nia Vardalos (with an assist, I suppose, from Hanks, who receives co-writing credit), Larry Crowne is about an ebullient man-child who adores his job as a shelf-stocker at a massive retail store, but is really sad when he gets fired for never graduating from college. We hear vague words about how Larry's wife left him, and it wasn't pretty, but it's never explained why Larry is so awkward, so naive, so earnest, and so borderline stupid. At least in Big and Forrest Gump there was a viable reason for Hanks' doe-eyed innocence, but in Larry Crowne he's just sort of a nice, vanilla dolt. Hardly a central figure worth investing in.
So Larry enrolls in a local community college, and his favorite new professor is played by Julia Roberts. (If you think it's odd that a Tom Hanks / Julia Roberts movie is opening in July instead of during the Oscar bait season, you're right.) Anyway, Julia Roberts plays, and I say this without any sense of hyperbole or exaggeration, the most obnoxious, nasty, and unlikable woman of her entire career. And that's saying something. Perhaps something got lost between the editing bay and the multiplexes, but it's no fun to have a leading lady be a rotten bitch for 93 minutes, only to smile a bit right before the end credits. But Ms. Roberts can only perform with the material she's given, and this entire screenplay is a flat, facile farce.
Screenwriter Nia Vardalos doesn't even seem to know what her movie is about. Is it a redemption tale of an emotionally injured man? Is it a cautionary tale about our over-reliance on faceless corporations? Or is it just a feel-good ensemble comedy? I say none of the above would qualify. Hanks, frequently as charming as ever, wanders through an arid void of a narrative, sometimes popping up in class for something dreary, and other times sitting with his stingy bastard of a next-door neighbor. As tiresome as these plot threads become, they don't hold a candle to the subplot about a squeaky-sweet-smiley pixie girl who, for no good reason, takes a silly shine to Crowne and asks him to join her ... scooter club. Frankly, any scene in Larry Crowne in which a scooter plays an important role -- is deadly stupid. The screenplay, or at least the version that shows up on the screen, is a endless slog of flat platitudes, generic cliches, and clumsily on-the-nose saccharine sweetness that feels about as sincere as a Hallmark card.
It would take 50 Larry Crownes to make me give up on Mr. Tom Hanks, but here's hoping his next projects see him A) reciting crisp dialogue, B) not sitting in the director's chair, and C) at least 1,000 yards away from Nia Vardalos. If i sound like I'm picking on Nia a bit too hard, fair enough ... go listen to the dialogue in this film and then get back to me.