There's an old saying that bad things often happen to good people. And that's true of Larry Crowne. Ask anybody, and they'll tell you he's one of the nicest, hardest working good guys they've ever met.
But his life? Well, it's sort of a mess.
Things got pretty ugly for Larry after his wife left him. But he kept plugging along with a smile on his face. Then, out of the blue, he loses his job at the local U-Mart. And it's not because of any slipshod work habits, mind you. He's earned Employee of the Month honors for eight months straight. But, hey, downsizing happens. And with no college education, Larry's the best candidate to be removed from the company management track. Nothing personal.
With no job and no vocational prospects on the horizon, Larry now has another problem: His mortgage is upside-down. He bought his wife's share of their house during the divorce and planned to get everything refinanced. But the bank doesn't look kindly on the financial viability of an out-of-work fiftysomething. Again, nothing personal.
Fortunately, Larry's not the kind of guy to just roll up in a depressed ball. So he swaps his gas guzzler for a scooter and enrolls at the local community college. If the powers that be want a degree, he reasons, he'll get a degree.
And just like that, Larry's life is thrown open to new friends and new possibilities. He meets an attractive (though somewhat cynical) public-speaking instructor named Mercedes Tainot who proves to be especially interesting. As is her story: Turns out she's going through an ugly divorce too.
Hmmm, now this could get personal.
Larry's nice-guy demeanor and can-do spirit are the keys to turning his life from terrible to terrific. He works diligently, no matter how difficult the task. And he's guilelessly open to friendship and life-rebuilding suggestions from his next-door neighbors as well as from a sweet twentysomething young woman named Talia whom he meets at school. In turn, Larry's support and encouragement helps Talia decide to open her own dream business.
Mercedes, in contrast, is a much more world-weary individual who drowns her woes in alcohol. That said, she and Larry end up having a healing impact on each other's lives.
Larry laments to his neighbor Lamar about unrealized dreams of raising his family in their neighborhood, dreams cut short by both his divorce (we never see his ex-wife or any children) and the bank's foreclosure on their home. Lamar, for his part, voices his opinion on divorce in no uncertain terms: "You get married and you stay married."
Another thing that's expressed in no uncertain terms: A husband's porn habit is both damaging and degrading. (More on how that vice is handled onscreen in "Sexual Content.")
Despite both Larry's and Mercedes' divorces, though, in general the movie makes it clear that new beginnings are still possible, no matter how broken and desperate someone's situation seems to be.
Talia rearranges Larry's living room and refers to feng shui, the pseudo-spiritual Chinese discipline of achieving harmony through the proper arrangement of one's physical space.
A few women, including Mercedes, wear formfitting or low-cut tops. And guys at a local restaurant overtly ogle one woman. Fleshy visuals also show up briefly in the form of buxom bikini girls on a raunchy website that Mercedes' husband, Dean, lusts and coos over. His lewd addiction leads to heated conversations—sprinkled with various terms for large breasts—between the couple. He justifies his actions by saying, "I'm a guy who's a guy being a guy."
After Larry gives a stranded Mercedes a ride home on his scooter one night, she kisses him, which turns into a long, impassioned liplock. The inebriated Mercedes is wowed by their mutual attraction and appears to be open for much more, but Larry wisely calls it an evening. Larry and Mercedes kiss several other times, as do Talia and her boyfriend, whom she's nicknamed Dell Gordo.
Mercedes and Dell Gordo momentarily wonder whether there's something going on between Larry and the much younger Talia. Dell Gordo catches the two in what he interprets as compromising positions—such as when she's showing Larry the tattoo on her lower back or when he's stripped down to his underwear, changing clothes in her storage unit. But, in actuality, their relationship is purely platonic.
When Larry first buys his scooter from Lamar, he revs up the little motorbike and crashes into a table of garage sale wares.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word, one misue each of God's and Jesus' names. We hear several uses each of "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "a‑‑." Vulgar slang ("c--k," "p---k") references male anatomy. Breasts are called "knockers."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Mercedes concocts, then downs a batch of homemade margaritas. A conversation about her day's highs and lows ends with her proclaiming, "My high? I'm drinking it!" On another occasion, she and Dean stagger out of a restaurant, and we're told that she drank three martinis. In fact, on several occasions we see Mercedes either drunk or painfully hungover. Dean eventually gets arrested for drunk driving. He calls Mercedes "Boozilla."
Lamar, Larry's neighbor, regularly puffs on a pipe. And Larry pulls out his own pipe and joins him in one scene.
Other Negative Elements
The camera zooms in on Larry's underwear-clad backside as he tries to wiggle into a pair of tight jeans in a scene played for humor at the middle-aged man's expense.
Larry Crowne is something of a rare breed. And that statement applies to both the movie and its titular character. How often have we seen a hero of late who takes action without the aid of gunfire, superpowers or even a single transforming robot?
Larry is simply a nice guy who cares about others, does his job well and keeps going no matter what life hurls at him. In this sense, Larry Crowne feels like an anachronistic throwback, the kind of film that doesn't get made too often anymore. After all, when was the last time you saw a romantic comedy that steered almost completely clear of both ribald banter and lighthearted sexual innuendo?
Tom Hanks, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, has given us a pretty realistic take on today's tough economic times, telling the tale of a middle-aged regular Joe who struggles to find love and purpose despite the bad hand he's been dealt. It's an intimate, earnest story of tiny-but-inspiring moments, and it brims with optimistic statements about friendship, perseverance and the possibility of second chances.
Unfortunately, those positive themes make the film's handful of problematic interjections that much more maddening. On paper, I'm sure Mercedes' boozy choices and her breast-obsessed hubby may have seemed like realistic conflicts to shove her toward divorce and eventually into Larry's embrace. But that kind of realism, instructive as it is, along with a PG-13-earning f-bomb, still comes at the expense of the movie's relatively wholesome vibe otherwise. It's almost shockingly out of character with the rest of the proceedings.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Tom Hanks as Larry Crowne; Julia Roberts as Mercedes Tainot; Wilmer Valderrama as Dell Gordo; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Talia; Cedric the Entertainer as Lamar; Pam Grier as Frances; Bryan Cranston as Dean Tainot
Tom Hanks ( )
July 1, 2011
November 15, 2011