Directed, co-written, and co-produced by Hanks, “Larry Crowne” is so guilessly optimistic that cynicism in the face of economic hardship melts away like unwanted waist-line weight.
The opening scene hits the unemployment crisis head-on. An enthusiastic, overly conscientious “U-Mart” chain-store worker, Larry Crowne (Hanks), is called to the back office, anticipating his 10th “Employee of the Month” award. In fact, he’s coolly handed a pink slip. The reason: Lack of a college degree.
Divorced and underwater in mortgage debt, Larry does his initial downsizing by substituting his gas-guzzling SUV for a mini-motorcycle.
To upgrade his education, he enrolls in two community college courses, “Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks” and another in economics. The latter is taught by a Mr. Matsutani (“Star Trek’s George Takei, whose penetrating baritone better suits “Speech 217”).
But the speech class has a plot purpose, a romantic one. It’s instructor is pretty woman Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). In a bad marriage to pompous porno-addicted ex-professor dean (Bryan Cranston), Miss Tainot provides the sour notes that the Hanks’ Crowne is sure to sweeten.
There’s also a benign motorbike gang headed by cute, care-free Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who smoothes out Larry’s squareness with a semi-ludicrous makeover (she dubs him, “Lance”).
The bottom line is that through an unexpected push off his treadmill, Larry finds himself. He gets a cooking job at a diner (he was a Navy chef for two decades and loved it). He works out his finances, thanks to Mr. Matsutani. And, he has a mid-life romance with Julia Roberts, er, Miss Tainot.
Of course, this is Hollywood fantasy and won’t boost the devastating recent unemployment figures.
But for those able to purchase a movie ticket, a Tom Hanks antidote may not be such bad medicine.