If you like, you can think of Larry Crowne as the anti-Transformers. It’s the opposite of an Event Movie for the summer season; instead, it’s an old-fashioned star vehicle, fashioned for the particular screen personas of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts by Hanks himself, who directed the film and wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos. (You may recall that he produced her breakthrough film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a decade ago.) As such, it’s easy to take and lightly enjoyable. One might even call it a “nice” movie, which will surely please one segment of the moviegoing audience and repel another. I just wish the film were a little—
Hanks plays a hard-working store manager who is suddenly downsized; it seems he doesn’t qualify for a management position because he never went to college. (He served in the Navy instead.) Forced to take stock of his life, he decides to enroll at a local community college.
There he makes new friends, including a sprite played by British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She and her friends open Larry Crowne to a whole new world of experiences.
He also signs up for a class in informal public speaking taught by a world-weary Julia Roberts. She’s actually a very good teacher, but her marriage is imploding and she’s been numbing the pain with booze. Then she realizes that her new students aren’t a bad lot after all and are worth her time and effort—especially Larry Crowne.
There isn’t much more to the film. It has a relaxed feeling, and is populated by good actors, even in small roles. (Hanks is nothing if not loyal. Veteran military advisor Dale Dye, with whom he worked on Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, plays the guy who has to fire him. Nia Vardalos’ husband Ian Gomez runs the restaurant where Hanks takes a job as short-order cook. Of course, the star’s wife, Rita Wilson, has a small role as a bank manager; their son plays a pizza delivery boy.)
Whether you find the film too self-consciously cute is a matter of personal taste; there are definitely times that its whimsy seems forced. On the other hand, after several weeks of summer-movie bombast, it’s not so bad to sit back and relax with a harmless piece of fluff like this.