Tom Hanks plays “Larry Crowne,” the middle-aged employee of a large
discount retailer who gets blindsided by a sudden corporate downsizing.
They tell him that he’s unable to move up on the managerial ladder because
he doesn’t have a college education, but later he discovers they’re laying
off others who do have a degree, so he soon realizes that there really isn’t
a reason. He’s just fired. But he enrolls in a local community college
anyway, after unsuccessfully searching for similar employment. Apparently
a fiftysomething, non-degreed guy is not a highly sought-after candidate for
the corporate fast track. Eventually he takes a job cooking at local restaurant
where he knows the owner, because he was a cook in the Navy. Not that he
ever considered himself a fancy chef or anything. But at least it’s someplace
that would hire him.
Larry’s lived in the same little suburban house for years, in fact he took out
a second mortgage to try to buy out his ex-wife’s share after the divorce,
but now both loans are underwater. The bank, of course, is not going to
renegotiate, especially because he’s unemployed. So Larry just gives the
house back to the bank, sells everything he has to lease a small apartment
and buy a scooter, and then finds himself in a speech class where the teacher
(Julia Roberts) is clearly unhappy with herself and the rest of the world,
and in an economics class where the professor is as obtuse as he is full of
himself, having written his own textbook.
But somehow Likeable Larry begins to find his mojo again. A group of
young students at the college invite him to join their “scooter gang,” which
is a great way to meet a whole bunch of new friends. In his speech class, all
the students make noticeable improvement. And best of all, the teacher just
might share his interest in seeing each other outside of the classroom.
The reinvention of Larry Crowne even extends to his wardrobe, as
the “scooter gang” helps him ditch the frumpy look – both the clothes and
the haircut. From all outward appearances, Larry Crowne’s economic
circumstances have not really improved. But he’s found a way to enjoy
life even within his downsized self. There’s a very important lesson there
somewhere. But it never sounds moralistic. Just one guy trying to get a
little better every day. The romance is oh-so-chaste, like something out
of the 1950s. (OK, there was a little heartfelt cussing, but only enough
to dodge the dreaded G rating.) Yeah, there are some plot holes, and it’s
awkward in some places. But this one is a crowd-pleaser. You just can’t
help but like the sincere, earnest guy on the screen. And as the “real” Tom
Hanks knows, that sells movie tickets.
Ronald P. Salfen is co-pastor of United Presbyterian Church, Greenville,