Tom Hanks has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and for his first movie as a director since 1996’s That Thing You Do!, he’s come up with one of the nicest movies ever made. Larry Crowne is so nice and upbeat and eager to please that other movies might beat it up on the playground. Nice is a great virtue when you’re appearing on talk shows or trying to get along with co-workers, but not so much when it comes to movies.
At first, Larry Crowne seems like it might actually be about something meaningful: Hanks plays the title character, a military veteran who’s laid off from his retail management job because he never went to college. Determined to better his station in life, Larry signs up for community college, where he takes a speech class taught by the beautiful but miserable Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). But other than a handful of references to the economy that mostly serve to move the plot along, the movie has no interest in grappling with the real troubles of the unemployed or middle-aged people who suddenly find themselves forced to change careers. Larry is basically handed a new job at his friend’s diner, and he succeeds magnificently in school. Even his decision to force a foreclosure on his house is depicted as a moment of liberation rather than desperation.
The romance between Larry and Mercedes is similarly smooth and drama-free; not even her loser husband (Bryan Cranston), the only character in the movie who ever expresses any negativity, does much to stand in the way, and he’s dispatched quickly. When Larry falls in with a quirky free-spirited hottie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), she convinces him to join a gang … of friendly fellow students who ride scooters.
Hanks and Roberts are two of the most charming people in the world, and it’s hard to hate Larry Crowne for being so bland and uninvolving. It’s the kind of movie you can watch with the whole family, in that everyone will tolerate it and no one will remember a thing about it the next day.