QUEASY RIDERS Hanks and Roberts spin their wheels in this ill-conceived, recession-era comedy.
How misguided is this movie? Its makers are so rich and so out of touch with reality that when they heard about the 2008 economic collapse, they said to themselves, Hey, this would make a dynamite comedy!
Tom Hanks has worked with some of the most gifted filmmakers alive. So he should know better than to coauthor a screenplay with the infinitesimally talented Nia Vardalos. Hanks and his wife produced the actress-screenwriter’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding back in 2002 and made millions on the improbable hit. Since then, Vardalos has turned out one flop after another, so it’s easy to understand why she would welcome the collaboration. The megastar’s involvement in this pointless, tasteless project is far more difficult to fathom.
But here Hanks is, directing, producing, cowriting and starring in the lamest film of his career. He plays the title character, a fiftysomething employee of a Walmart-style big-box store cheekily called U-Mart. In the opening scene, Larry is told the company has no choice but to let him go, because he lacks a college degree and so will never be eligible for promotion.
This explanation rings false for at least two reasons: First, Larry has worked there for years — and been named employee of the month no fewer than eight times — without a degree. Second, one of the college-educated managers who fires him gets his own pink slip later in the film.
At any rate, Larry Crowne becomes an American statistic. He’s unemployed. His mortgage is underwater. He’s a divorced father of at least two. We never actually learn how many children Larry has, because he not only never interacts with his offspring in the course of the movie, he only mentions them once in passing. We’re supposed to find Larry a nice guy, but what kind of nice guy never calls his kids and scarcely seems to notice their absence? The story behind his divorce likewise never comes up.
This is because the picture has just one setting: cute. It has no room for anything that’s not cute. Larry enrolls in a community college, where his classes are filled with cute young characters who improbably take him under their wings. He trades his SUV for a scooter. That’s cute. He enrolls in a speech class. His teacher is played by Julia Roberts. They meet cute, and their relationship increases in cuteness until the closing credits. The writers even find a way to turn Larry losing his home into a thing of cuteness.
Who knew it was so much fun to be downsized? Even by rom-com vanity-project standards, Larry Crowne is a clueless, condescending blight. The economic crisis is no laughing matter. Vardalos and Hanks don’t appear to understand that, and their film certainly doesn’t prove otherwise.
The filmmakers pretend to empathize with the common man, but they can’t be bothered to breathe even halfway-believable life into their Average Joe and Jane, much less into their never-for-a-minute-convincing love connection. Forget speech. What Hanks and Roberts should have boned up on was chemistry.