Larry Crowne is horrible, just horrible, and I urge you to avoid it like the plague. It’s a ‘rom-com’ starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and if you thought you can’t go wrong with Hanks and Roberts, two of the greatest screen presences alive, here is proof that you can. This is stilted, lifeless, bears absolutely no relation to how real people talk or behave, and is offensively sexist, or at least I found it so. Tom Hanks directs himself in this, and also wrote the original script, so if you ever thought you can’t have too much Hanks here is something else to blow your mind: you so, so can.
OK, Larry Crowne is a middle-aged man who used to be a cook in the navy but now works in a Walmart-type store. Larry loves his job and picks up the store’s car-park litter on his way in and out of work because ‘it’s the right thing to do’. Larry’s face is startlingly immobile — Christ, what’s the world coming to when even Hanks has Botox? — but is an enthusiastic employee, popular with colleagues and customers. But then he’s called into the boss’s office and fired because cuts are required and Larry doesn’t have a college education. What, everyone else on the shop floor has a college education? If it’s just an excuse, why would you want to get rid of Larry first, anyhow? He’s your dream worker. I’m not saying films have to be true to life, but they have to be true to an idea of life, at least. And I think you know you’re in trouble when you can’t even believe in the initial premise of a film. You may even sigh inwardly and say to yourself, ‘I don’t believe this.’ What you wouldn’t do is say it to yourself out loud, as the characters in this film do all the time. ‘I don’t believe this,’ they’ll say, when noting a situation, or walking away from it. Tom, don’t tell us what they’re feeling, show us. This is the whole point of film-making! Tom, why don’t you know this, after all these years? I’m genuinely perplexed.
So, anyway, Larry goes to sign up at his local community college, and is directed towards suitable classes by the Dean of Student Services, who recommends public-speaking because, as he adds with a smutty wink, ‘you’ll like the teacher’. The teacher is Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) and if I were Ms Tainot, and knew this was how the Dean of Student Services was selling me, I’d go chop his penis off, but Ms Tainot is preoccupied elsewhere, most notably with slipping her lovely legs into high-heeled shoes, which are filmed over and over. Why? I don’t know, but I’m guessing whatever the explanation is, it comes with a smutty wink.
Now, Ms Tainot is a miserable and entirely unsympathetic piece of work; a drunk who is contemptuous of her students and hates her husband, predominantly because he doesn’t have a job. ‘Loser!’ she shouts at him. Hang on, isn’t this film trying to say, albeit badly, that a job doesn’t define you? Oh, never mind.
Meanwhile, Larry is befriended by a much younger, sexy female student — likely, right? — who invites him to join her scooter gang and gives him the inevitable make-over. Larry looks decent now, even has a man bag, and he and Ms Tainot find they are drawn to each other, although heaven knows why. There isn’t a hint of sexual chemistry between the two. Not even a squeak. Seriously, there is more sexual chemistry between me and my newsagent, Mr Patel, and he hates me because I never pay my paper bill on time. In one scene, Roberts is sitting alone late at night at a bus stop in one of her miserable grumps and, my, how I was longing for Richard Gere to turn up in a limo and whisk her off to a luxury hotel for a good seeing-to. But, no, along pootles Larry on the scooter he now has to drive as he can no longer afford his big fancy car. Why would a Walmart employee have had such a big, fancy car in the first place? Why would a Walmart employee have had such a big fancy house? Tom, at least make ONE THING RING TRUE!
The script — which was later revised by Nia Vardalos, who wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding — has a poor handle on character, providing secondary characters that are as uninteresting and as uninterestingly played as the leads who, themselves, morph from stupid (Hanks) and bitter (Roberts) into wise and peachy without any journey, or none that I could see. And as for the humour, it’s all bums and boobs and smutty winks and that sort of thing. I didn’t laugh once, and didn’t hear anyone else laugh once. It’s a non-rom-com, and horrible, horrible horrible. Avoid like the plague.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated July 2, 2011