That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks’ first director-writer-star effort, is one of my favorite movies ever made. It’s a film overflowing with generosity and joy, a script and universe that Hanks clearly worked on in his spare time for years.
So why does Larry Crowne feel so half-assed? Maybe That Thing You Do! is a movie Hanks desperately wanted to make, and Larry Crowne is a movie he felt he should or could make.
The pitch here, on the surface is: The titular Larry Crowne (Hanks), a confused but good-hearted Boomer, deals with Great Recession layoffs. But packaged as a breezy, genial Tom Hanks comedy.
Plenty of the movie’s problems are obvious from the logline: The clash of low key charm with the real danger of poverty. Hanks hadn’t had to worry about money in 25 years by the time he made this movie, and it definitely shows. Characters’ relationships with money are vaguely extraterrestrial. (Compare it to 2009’s Up in the Air, which has its own issues with economic privilege, but at least tried to explore the topic authentically.)
Not helping is that this is about four movies in one: A romantic comedy, a back-to-school college comedy, an economic satire, and an other-people-are-the-real-riches parable. The movie floats from scene to scene between these modes with no real rhyme or reason.
Honestly, the script is just a fiasco, with half-baked tangents everywhere. Hanks and Julia Roberts’ romance makes almost no sense; there’s a weird runner about Bryan Cranston being addicted to porn; a whole side plot about a “scooter gang” featuring a 20-something flirting with Hanks; Cedric the Entertainer running a yard sale-style thrift store; a couple scenes suggesting Roberts is an alcoholic; etc. etc. It all goes nowhere interesting without ever quite flying off the rails into nonsense territory.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos is a credited co-writer, so perhaps Hanks figured she could fill in the gaps to get this towards “charming.” And, sure, there are some inviting scenes, but it still feels like table scraps.
What keeps the film firmly in “watchable” territory is the cast, which is pretty excellent. Hanks and Roberts are their charming selves, totally outclassing the film around them. A young Rami Malek appears as a Spicoli-type goofball. Lots of friendly faces being friendly. (On the other hand, George Takei’s cartoonish econ professor is a little much.)
So I ask, again, why did Tom Hanks make this movie? After That Thing You Do!, I was hoping that Hanks would save his directorial efforts for inspired passion projects. Alas, Larry Crowne is remarkably unremarkable.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective