Reeducates Us With Laughs
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Remember that great extended-shot opening scene in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” where scriptwriters are pitching movie concepts to studio bigwigs? Well, I saw a pitch that perfectly describes “Larry Crowne,” the new Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts comedy that’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
As IMDb put it: Sorta sounds like “The Company Men” meets “Eat Pray Love” meets “Community” to us.
Yep, that pretty well sums it up. A guy who loses his job meets a teacher in search of herself when he goes back the community college for a little re-training. And it has a funny screenplay by Hanks and Nia Vardalos, the actress-scribe who gave us “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” In addition, Nia also provides the voice for the film’s Map Genie.
Tom Hanks directed this film, his second (not counting TV movies).
After being downsized because he doesn’t have a college degree, Larry Crowne (Hanks) decides to go back to school to jumpstart his life. As his neighbor (Taraji P. Henson) tells him, “You’re never to old to learn.”
The plot hangs on a timely entrance by Tom Hanks. You see, ten students are the minimum required for Speech 217. And Larry arrives at the last second to complete that number – to the chagrin of unenthusiastic teacher Mercedes Tainot (Roberts). Her world-weary attitude is summed up with the observation: “I have a speech class that thinks the Renaissance is a fair they go to every July.”
Larry falls in with a group of oddballs. “Wanna join my gang?” asks one of his new college buddies, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). When he accepts, she concludes, “You are way cooler than you appear.”
Leader of this motor-scooter pack is Dell (Wilmer Valderrama). “Welcome to the street patrol,” he says. “We ride for justice and beauty.”
Talia gives her new bud a makeover. “A man with a motor scooter can accomplish anything,” she tells him. Turns out, Larry’s now cool enough to catch the romantic attention of his teacher.
Truthfully, I wasn’t so excited to see Tom Hanks reunited with Julia Roberts, his co-star in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” as I was a-twitter when I heard the rumor that the film would team him up again with Peter Scolari, his co-star in TV’s “Bosom Buddies.” But I didn’t catch Scolari’s cameo – did you?
Oh well. Other supporting actors were terrific. Cedric the Entertainer as the yard-sale pal who provides Larry with a motor scooter. Bryan Cranston as the teacher’s deadbeat hubby. Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier as Francis. And Star Trek’s George Takei as the very funny Dr. Ed Matsutani.
Key West’s Al Kelley has fond memories of Takei. When 14-year-old Al was burned in a car crash, Takei took time off from a Star Trek convention to visit him in the hospital. “I’ll always be a fan,” smiles Al.