From "Big" to "Toy Story 3," Tom Hanks has had one of the most impressive acting careers of all time. After nearly 30 years of uniformly great performances, Hanks finally steps into the director's chair with "Larry Crowne." Through his first feature-length directorial outing, Hanks doesn't really reach the heights of actors turned filmmakers like Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck or Mel Gibson. Nevertheless, "Larry Crowne" is still a pleasant little charmer that establishes Hanks' promise as a director.
In addition to working behind the camera, Hanks also plays the film's title character. Larry Crowne is a 50-something-year-old, divorced Navy veteran who maintains a steady job as a megastore employee. One day Larry gets called into his boss's office, under the impression that he's going to make employee of the month. But whenever a character assumes that they're going to get any sort of promotion in the movies, it actually means that they're getting fired. The megastore is forced to downsize due to the rough economy and since Larry never went to college he's deemed invaluable.
From there we get the typical montage of Larry being rejected at job interviews due to his age and lack of an education. Unable to find a job, Larry is influenced by his neighbors, played by Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson, to finally go to college. Larry enrolls at a local university, where he signs up for a speech and economy class. In addition to furthering his education, Larry falls into a young scooter gang and gets a taste of the college lifestyle he missed out on.
Hanks is just right here as Larry Crowne, the likable everyman who stirs up memories of Jimmy Stuart. Who better than Julia Roberts to play Crowne's icy speech teacher who drinks too much and always wears high heels. While the relationship that arises between Hanks and Roberts is nothing unpredictable, the two still have a winning chemistry and are easy to root for. In addition to its stars, "Larry Crowne" is enforced by a terrific supporting cast that includes Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a young student that helps bring out Larry's suppressed youth and the always-entertaining George Takei as Larry's econ professor.
"Larry Crowne" is basically a brisk, refreshing walk through the park. It might have been a better film if the screenplay by Hanks and Nia Vardalos of "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" had added a little more conflict and avoided being so formulaic. The ending in particular is too mushy for my tastes. Regardless, "Larry Crowne" is a harmless feel-good comedy that consistently left a smile implanted on my face, which is more than enough for me to give it a pass. Whether Hanks will go on to make a movie that matches his strength as an actor is up for debate. For now, though, "Larry Crowne" is a solid freshman effort that significantly surpasses the directorial efforts of William Shatner.