When I sat down to watch Larry Crowne I admit that I wasn't expecting to like it. It just seemed as if it was something a bit too safe and twee and uninteresting. And, in a way, it was all of those things. Yet it was also quite enjoyable in an old-fashioned way, a vehicle for Tom Hanks to star in, direct and also write (with Nia Vardalos). He even finds a role for his wife, Rita Wilson.
Hanks is the titular character, a man who finds himself at a bit of a loss when he is fired from his job. Times are tough but Crowne hopes for the best when he enrols in some further education classes. One of those classes is being taught by Mrs Tainot (Julia Roberts), a woman who doesn't really have much enthusiasm for her job any more. Thankfully, Larry Crowne brings out the best in everyone. His teacher starts to properly teach, his classmates start trying to actually learn what they're being taught and the lovely Alvarez (Roxana Ortega) enjoys a new pet project when she decides to help "Lance Corona" make himself a bit more socially active and cool.
Larry Crowne is actually, for almost 3/4 of the runtime, a good film. Hanks is as likeable as ever, Roberts is okay and the support from Roxana Ortega, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, George Takei, Cedric The Entertainer, Bryan Cranston and others (including a fun couple of scenes for Rob Riggle) really help to lift what is, essentially, average material. At best. From the opening titles, accompanied by a lively ELO track, to about the halfway point, I was able to overlook many of the negatives and enjoy myself. However, once it gets to the halfway point, the negatives start to become harder to overlook.
The biggest failing that the movie has, and that builds and builds up to an end credit sequence which involves characters actually waving to the audience, is a certain smugness. It's almost as if the movie makes the assumption that everyone will find the main characters so endearing that they'll be sad to see the end credits roll. Hanks does well as director, nothing flashy but he keeps everything nicely paced, though he's not as talented in the writing department, which piles up cliche after cliche.
I saw the trailer for this movie, as did many people, and thought "well, that's probably not for me". As the first half of the movie kept moving nicely along I started to change my mind. Maybe I'd been too cynical and the fact that this was just a decent movie with a bit of a sweet, soft centre wasn't all that bad. But as the sweetness started to build up to levels threatening to give me dental problems and/or put me into a diabetic coma I was able to see that my first impressions were correct.
There are many other people who will enjoy this much more than I did, people who want something that's slightly removed from every other comic book movie, zombie flick or shoot 'em up, and I can see the appeal. I've actually rated the movie as slightly above average because there were a number of little moments, even if they were covered in cheese, that I enjoyed. I laughed, I wanted the lead character to do well, I was won over. The film succeeded. For that first half, at least.