Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Alternate Universe of "Larry Crowne"

"Larry Crowne" movie poster
Larry Crowne, the Tom Hanks feel-good vehicle that doubles as a feature film is so unrelentingly positive in its outlook that it may define a new genre in its own right, the lobotomy flick. Indeed, when the quite surreal closing credits rolled, I paused in my seat before standing up, wanting to make sure that I didn't walk off with the Valium drip planted firmly - too firmly - in my arm.

The title character. Larry Crowne (Hanks), leads a life into which a little - very little - rain must fall, and even then it serves the purpose of watering the seed of his glorious personal reawakening. Larry's unwelcome summer shower arrives at the beginning of the film in the form of an unexpected layoff from a Walmart-like big box store where he has worked for several years. That Larry has thrived, even frolicked, there is made all too evident in an opening video paean to workplace camaraderie that would have been excessive in a Stalin-era Soviet film touting the joys of collectivized agriculture.
"Forrest Gump" movie poster

Hanks has decided to reprise his role as Forrest Gump here, playing an indefatigable, not-a-mean-bone-in-his-body optomist, a character more suited to the story of mildly-retarded man buffeted about Zelig-like from one momentous event of the 20th century to another, than that of a middle-aged, retired Navy cook down on his luck. One would think that such naiveté would make Larry an easy target in any neighborhood this side of Mister Rogers', but Larry conveniently lives in an alternate universe tailored especially for him.

It is an off-kilter male fantasy universe where beautiful young women (such as the fethcing Gugu Mbatha-Raw) take older lost boys like Larry under their wings, style their hair, redo their wardrobes, redecorate their homes and initiate them into "mild bunch" gangs of scooter-riding twenty-somethings, whose rituals include low-speed drive-bys up and down the endless retail roads of Southern California in search of - of all things - yardsales.

It is a formulaic sitcom universe of pristine post-racial suburban streets populated by eccentric next-door neighbors, such as Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer), whose perpetual yardsale provides Larry with a golden opportunity to prove his worth to his new-found yardsale-seeking scooter posse.

It is a forgiving universe of soft knocks, where Larry quickly recovers his financial footing, finding part-time work as a cook at a diner run by his long-time friend Frank, and finding a kind of personal liberation in handing over the keys to his home to the bank as part of a voluntary foreclosure that will wipe his fiscal slate clean.

Jimmy Stewart in the movie "Harvey"
But most importantly it is a Jimmy Stewart, nice-guys-finish-first universe in which an unassuming, guileless 55-year-old man walks into his very first college class to find that his professor is a woman, looking an awful lot like Julia Roberts, whose marriage is on the porno-fueled skids and whose sarcastic and cynical heart is ripe to be warmed, if only her everyman prince would come.

Julia Roberts! Sign me up. Just give me a second or two to roll up the other sleeve.

Creative Commons License
The Alternate Universe of "Larry Crowne" by Marc Merlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at


Chuck Doherty said...

Larry's is also a world in which, as is so often the case in movies, people ride motorcycles without any sort of eye protection, perhaps so that the audience can always gaze at their happy faces. In the real world, a stray Junebug would soon deprive them of depth-perception at the very least.

Anonymous said...

Look out A. O. Scott, Mr. Merlin is all over this film. Brilliant take, DB