In Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks is open to all things lively and good.
Larry Crowne ***
Tom Hanks cowrote, directed, and stars in this novel pleasantry about a 50-something, all-too-amiable employee of the month. Hanks’s title character is fired at the film’s outset for his lack of education, prompting him to enroll in community college. Enter Julia Roberts as a frustrated speech professor in the midst of marital crisis. Despite the lack of chemistry between Roberts and Hanks, the film is redeeming — through Larry, who is open to all things lively and good. He’s a human doormat, always stepped on but still inviting.
Tom Hanks cowrote, directed, and stars in this novel pleasantry about a 50-something, all-too-amiable employee of the month. He works at a Walmart-style retailer called UMart (their slogan is “I Love U”). Hanks’s title character is fired at the film’s outset for his lack of higher education, something that prevents him from advancement no matter how good a worker he may be. “You’re forever retarded because you didn’t go to college,” one of Larry’s rivals remarks. Hanks, whose face is retiring into a kind of scrunched orange, plays the scene well, bouncing off the humorous lines of the company suits with shock and panic.
The film touches on some common struggles of the contemporary American: the betrayal of job security, the indignity of privileging education over expertise, the cost of gas. After a montage of frustrated résumé planting, Larry decides to enroll in community college. He signs up for four classes, and we are privy to two: speech and economics. Enter Julia Roberts as the speech professor, a frustrated educator in the midst of marital crisis. Roberts, who looks skeletal with her hair down and cobra-like with it up, attempts to emerge from her longstanding Oscar shellshock. She still looks like her old, affected self, but at least her tone and mannerisms don’t ruin the sharp dialogue. George Takei, competing with Leonard Nimoy for the finest voice from the original Star Trek series, plays a distinguished economics professor. While the speech class is clearly set to be the life-changing experience for Larry, Takei does more with his comic filler than Roberts does as Larry’s love interest. The chemistry between her and Hanks is never that credible, at least without the humor to pepper it along.
But the film is always redeeming, through Larry. His charm comes from his openness to all things lively and good; he’s a human doormat, always stepped on but still universally inviting. We empathize in his wounded moments, and we rejoice in his elation. Larry is a real person, even if his eventual circumstances are somewhat whimsical.
Aside from the sliding panes of the title sequence, the direction is wisely laissez faire, allowing the clever script to spark its wit without distraction from the camera. The film is reminiscent of the recent Everything Must Go (right down to the yard sale) in both story and style. It is filmed in a crisp, suburban brightness, like the inside of a Target. But whereas Everything Must Go was concerned with the bizarre wit of suburban depravity, Larry Crowne is a character study on the good nature of human beings. Larry is a redemptive spirit, but one who never had many faults to overcome. His conflicts are mild and familiar, and there is comfort in that.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The film opens with a bit of historical hogwash, suggesting that America’s Cold War Space Race was actually motivated by a crashed alien transport, that the far-side-of-the-moon radio blackout was in fact a CIA cover-up — that Armstrong and Aldrin were complicit conspirators. A brief sequence at Chernobyl is included to stir the Russians into the mix.
None of the revisionary storytelling is actually necessary; once the static exposition is dispensed, the film is all about the 3-D rollercoaster. Our Autobot heroes are seeking to revive a castaway comrade who possesses the technology to open a “space bridge” by which instantaneous travel across the universe is possible: “The ability to reshape the universe.” The evil Decepticons, for obvious reasons of conquest, want the technology as well. And the battle begins.
Shia LaBeouf, as the human protagonist, Sam, keeps up his antic disposition in a vain attempt to prove that he’s actually in a film that requires acting. Most of his efforts are reduced to tongue-in-cheek montages. Sam has been dumped by his previous girlfriend (Megan Fox) but is not without a quick stand-in: fashion-model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Modeling is about all she is apt to do, with her hilltop curves and mountainous lips. The filmmakers have her inexplicably dressed in white throughout the movie. If their attempt was to suggest purity, any semblance is lost when the character is introduced with a trailing shot of her scarcely covered derriere.
The older cast members are merely there to disguise the stupidity of the overall picture. John Turturro and Malkovich fulfill their roles as human clowns. Ken Jeong makes a mad dash at some Hangover humor. The inside jokes become shameless pandering, specifically in the voice casting of Leonard Nimoy as a sort of Autobot Merlin, complete with mechanical beard.
Directed by Michael Bay with garage-grease coloring that seeps through the shifty editing, sweeping camera passes, and his staple, the extreme low angle — the mayhem is mostly incomprehensible. A lot of disposable human carnage litters the screen. It’s impossible for a film to maintain its suspense of human jeopardy, its heart of human concern, when no care is given to human demise. The only feeling comes in the way of pop songs. Even worse, there is a sickening perversion of Americanism. Megatron (the chief villain) is portrayed as a desert-dwelling Jihadist, complete with a burka-style sun hood. Good-guy Optimus Prime (who looks like a mechanical American flag) tries to disguise the xenophobia with a constant parade of war-torn slogans: “We take the battle to them!” But the audience I was in cheered the loudest when he said, “We will kill every one of them.”
There’s a boldness to a film that chooses an opening shot of a heavyset teen, stark naked in a filthy bathtub. The image isn’t provocative and is almost shocking in its vulnerability. Terri, played by newcomer Jacob Wysocki, lumbers like a brontosaurus, perpetually clad in a pair of grandpa pajamas. He is an isolated high school student who must endure the typical peer belligerence of adolescence — a kind of terrorism all its own. He lives in a ramshackle home with his sole guardian, an uncle nearing dementia, whom Terri must feed, shave, and put to bed every night.
The high school scenes stir up some authenticity: the horniness, the misfits, the tenure-chasing teachers. John C. Reilly, a fixture on the indie circuit, plays a well-meaning, if somewhat clueless, principal. The movie is a kind of painful Napoleon Dynamite — bizarre in its own right, but with an undeniable sense of anguish. We are sadly captivated watching Terri’s chubby fingers try to delicately set mousetraps, seeing his remorse when they’ve done their job, and then his wide-eyed celebration when a hawk consumes the dead rodents. He basks in the circle of life, in the realities of the wilderness (just like high school).
Director Azazel Jacobs keeps the image coated in low, austere tones, like the inside of a hearth. The style may be repetitive, but it’s never redundant. It suits the theme of the lost and lonely: “The feeling is no feeling.” “She’s dying of death.” High school is a droning, circular time. The plot never rises above the customary coming-of-age tale but does include enough quirks to make the familiar story seem fresh. Note in particular a superb scene of teenage drunkenness that calls to mind the Crooks’s room chapter in Of Mice and Men. The film concludes on an endearing note but never trivializes the struggles involved. The pervasive cruelty of high school shows just how far a kind act can go.
Reviewed in the movie capsules: Blank City and Monte Carlo.