The closing song of the film Larry Crowne, directed by Tom Hanks and starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, is ‘Calling America’ by Electric Light Orchestra, better known as ELO, from 1986. The beginning lyrics of that song go like this:
Somebody told her that there
Was a place like heaven
Across the water on a 747 …
That place is America and it is a ‘modern world’—the girl takes off and the songwriter is stuck trying to call her ‘across the miles’, ending up ‘just talking to a satellite’ (as that was before the invention of Internet).
Larry Crowne is a romantic comedy, a ‘feel-good / again’ movie with a message. America, the modern world, is no longer the heaven it used to be, but it has not lost its spirit and the girl is still over.
Larry is in his mid-fifties. He works for U-Mart, is a nice guy and a good employee. Still, he gets fired. The official explanation is that he has no prospects for an advance since he never went to college. The slowdown of the economy is, of course, the real reason.
Out of job, with a big house on mortgage since his divorce, and an SUV, he faces difficulties making ends meet for the first time in his life. But like the good American that he is, he does not give up: he gets a job at the local fast food restaurant, the owner of which is ‘tough but fair’, buys a second-hand scooter for moving around and enrolls into the municipal college.
There he gets to know Talia, who shows him how to dress cool with second-hand clothes, helps him re-design the interior of his home using Feng Shui, and introduces him into her multicultural circle of scooter friends. He attends an economics class which teaches him that given his salary it would be more sustainable to rent a small condo rather than pay mortgage for a big house; and that defaulting on a bank that cheated you into living beyond your means is not only morally ok but makes economic sense.
Not to forget—he also meets and falls in love with Julia Roberts. She plays Mercedes Tainot, another typical American character of our times: in her early forties, still caring for what she does (namely, teaching humanities), but disillusioned with her marriage and the conditions of her work, she is on a good way to becoming an alcoholic.
She is saved; and Larry is saved—because they fall in love, but also because they have to courage to change their lives without giving up on their basic values: hard work, belief in education, openness to new lifestyles and people. A nice fairy tale—but unlike many others of the type, what makes this one worth seeing is the way it is contextualized.
Most critics, including on Rotten Tomatoes, have given the film bad ratings characterizing it as ‘bland’ or as missing the point, or an opportunity. Larry Crowne aspires to be a social-critical comedy and that is a pretty tricky genre; the more so, if wanting to remain a ‘feel-good’ movie.
The film is awkward at times, the cut not ideal, hanging on too long on some scenes, too short on others. Moreover, its humor is sometimes overstated—like Larry Corona being renamed into Lance Corona, a hybrid of Lance (Buick) and (Toyota) Corona—and its intentions are obvious.
Yet it is still good fun, and maybe, the answers to America’s calamities following the financial crisis might really have something to do with switching to scooters, moving into condos and going to college …