98 minutes

It has taken Tom Hanks 15 years to return to the director's chair after the endearing coming-of-age nostalgia trip that was 1996's That Thing You Do!, and a lot of what is good about Larry Crowne follows on from that film's high points: a willingness to trust the actors and let them engage as an ensemble and a modest, self-effacing approach to the work of telling a story. So far so good, and the premise of mr. Hanks' sophomore film is tailor-made for such aspirations: the titular Navy veteran and “employee of the month” is laid-off by his big-box employer and, forced to start from scratch, enrolls in college to make up for the education he never had.

     It's plain that, in these times of global crisis, rising unemployment and uncertainty about the future, mr. Hanks is appealing to America's celebrated spirit of community and can-do attitude, offering a cheerfully upbeat pep talk for disenchanted audiences. On that level it works, even though it would be hard not to point out that Larry Crowne's bright-eyed optimism is anchored in a sitcom-ish plot (by mr. Hanks and My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer/star Nia Vardalos) that never fleshes out characters beyond one-dimensional archetypes, nor gives them enough screen time for the stellar supporting cast to do something with them. And as portrayed by mr. Hanks, Larry never stoops to despair, which would be an acceptable position in the dire straits he finds himself in and might even ensure the film would gain the added edge it sorely lacks. This is particularly visible in Julia Roberts' turn as Larry's college speech teacher, whose cynicism and bitterness are a welcome change to the actress' usual squeaky clean roles but are sadly undercut by a script progression that seems like something you'd learn on Screenwriting 101.

     For all that, Larry Crowne remains a cheerful, amiable comedy, its unassuming modesty welcome in these days of inflated, plot-free blockbusters, but it lacks the boost that would kick it into a really good film.

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts; Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, Rita Wilson. 
     Directed by mr. Hanks; produced by mr. Hanks, Gary Goetzman; written by mr. Hanks and Nia Vardalos; music by James Newton Howard; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen), Philippe Rousselot; production designer, Victor Kempster; costume designer, Albert Wolsky; film editor, Alan Cody.
     A Vendôme Pictures presentation of a Playtone production. (US distributor, Universal Pictures. World sales, Summit Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9, Lisbon, July 4th 2011. 


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