Larry Crowne Review
Larry Crowne marks a return to big screen directing for Tom Hanks, his first in fact since 1996 debut That Thing You Do!. During those intervening fifteen years there has been the odd bit of television work - including an episode of Band of Brothers - but even these have been rare occurrences. As such Hanks remains Hanks the performer in cinemagoers’ eyes: the voice of Woody; the embodiment of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon; the occasional more challenging, or unlikely, role for the likes of the Coen brothers or Spielberg or Sam Mendes. The recent work is worth considering as Larry Crowne feels, in many ways, like a reaction to it. This is simpler fare in a much lower key, eschewing the ridiculousness of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, side-stepping the relative complexities of Road to Perdition, say, or Charlie Wilson‘s War, and arguably never likely to match the audience figures of the Pixar movies.
Hanks plays the eponymous Crowne, a fifty-something divorcee who works at the local ‘big box’ store. Despite regularly being awarded ‘Employee of the Month’ he loses his jobs within minutes of the film’s opening, thanks to his lack of college education (he went straight into the Navy, as a cook, during his teens). The initial shock turns to resolution, however, and soon enough Crowne is enlisted at the local community college where he can count Julia Roberts and George Takei as his tutors and where young Gugu Mbatha-Raw can invite him to be part of her “scooter gang” and a purely platonic friendship. The scooter gang, incidentally, is similarly innocent: Crowne and a bunch of clean-living kids in their early twenties scooting around town, occasionally stopping off for a coffee and some laughs.
Essentially Larry Crowne is a case of Hollywood solving the recession. If you too get laid off like Crowne then simply better yourself with education whilst taking a part-time job at the local diner. You’ll also make loads of new friends, learn about community spirit, and get to woo Julia Roberts, who conveniently is going through a marriage break-up. Importantly, you just need to be a nice guy. All of which, of course, is simply Hollywood operating within its own bubble. Or rather Hanks operating within his own Hollywood bubble. (He co-wrote the film, with Nia Vardlos of My Big Fat Greek Weeding fame, as well as starring and directing). In the accompanying interviews he repeatedly stresses the “authentic” nature of the film which only seems to confirm just how out of touch with the common man he is. Scenes of Crowne and his ‘gang’ scooting around California to the MOR sounds of ELO and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perfectly encapsulate this: they’re entirely alien and come without even a hint of authenticity.
In which case I really should hate Larry Crowne. Not only because it is so out of touch but also because it trivialises its subject. There is no effort whatsoever towards any kind of depth or complexity, but rather a fairly simple tale of self-improvement in which everyone smiles and the soundtrack is incredibly dated. And yet there is something strangely winning about Hanks’ refusal to make anything other than a ‘feel good’ movie. It seems fairly obvious that, much like That Thing You Do!, he has pretty much made this film for himself and that any shared audience enthusiasm is simply a bonus. This would explain the presence of Petty and ELO and all those other choices that feel out of touch or outdated. Indeed, Larry Crowne feels like something of a throwback to a more simply brand of comedy and, to be honest, that can be quite refreshing. At a time when mainstream comedy has increasingly grown darker, more cynical and more concerned with pushing the boundaries, it’s not only odd but also kind of nice that a film as benign and harmless as this one exists. Like Larry Crowne himself it’s a bit lame, but also slightly heart-warming too - I want to hate it, but find myself with a certain grudging respect instead.
Larry Crowne is released today (November 14th) onto Blu-ray and DVD by Studio Canal as individual editions encoded for Region B / Region 2. A Blu-ray was provided for review purposes and so it is this disc which is being considered. The film itself comes in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and with a choice of English soundtrack formats: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, LPCM Stereo and audio descriptive. The image is clean and clear throughout, perfectly replicating the intended look of Hanks and his director of photography Philippe Rousselot. Note that they’ve opted for a very narrow field of focus for many scenes meaning that the majority of the screen is intentionally blurred. (It’s never clear as to why they’ve chosen this particular look, so let’s simply add it as another of Hanks’ strange ideas for this film.) The soundtrack similarly proves itself to be consistently crisp throughout, ably coping with the dialogue and the ELO tunes. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are also available.
Special features are mostly of the EPK variety. There’s an eleven-minute ‘making of’ that assumes the viewer hasn’t seen the film yet, but still proceeds to spoil almost everything. There’s also plenty of people falling over themselves to proclaim how much fun it is to work on one of Hanks’ sets, as demonstrated in another eleven-minute inclusion, ‘Fun On the Set’, which amounts to nothing more than a compilation of B-roll tomfoolery. The EPK nature continues with a five-minute interview with Hanks in which he discusses the inspiration behind the film and that “authenticity” he insists on being present. Finally there is a collection of seven deleted scenes (totalling eight minutes), some of which run for mere seconds, other being somewhat longer. Most notable is an entire post-sacking sequence which was no doubt cut - as were most of these scenes - for pacing reasons, and because it’s overt stylistic tropes are entirely out of keeping with the rest of the film. Unlike the main feature, there are no optional subtitles available for any of the extras.