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Posts Tagged ‘Gugu Mbatha-Raw’

Well now, life being what it is, one of the rarest pleasures I get is that of Going In Blind. By this I mean going in to the cinema knowing nothing about a movie but the title and whatever I can glean from the poster. I call this a pleasure even though the results are frequently extremely unhappy: as I recall, the last time I did it was in Osaka in 2007 when a friend and I inadvertantly inflicted Roland Joffe’s highly objectionable Captivity upon ourselves. The joy, as with most things, is in the anticipation.

Anyway, this week all the major publicity has been guzzled up by a number of other major releases which have just come out. Not being moved to partake of a techno-porn movie based on a children’s toy range or a paean to incontinence, my choices were necessarily limited, and so in the end I went to see Larry Crowne.

It’s actually quite difficult for a film to get a major release without impinging on my consciousness at all (then again, I have been quite busy for the last couple of weeks), especially when it’s directed by one of the biggest stars of recent years. Tom Hanks is the guy in question, but his contributions also extend to playing the title role, producing it, and co-writing the script. Hanks hasn’t appeared on screen in a major role for a few years now, and it’d be fun to speculate as to why, and how this relates to Larry Crowne, but – on with the review.

Well, I settled down to enjoy the film and did my best to ignore the structure of the cinema creaking and the vague rumbling noises permeating the theatre (both courtesy of the Michael Bay movie playing down the other end of the building). It starts as it means to continue, with a relentlessly perky and upbeat title sequence depicting Larry Crowne (Hanks – keep up), a middle-aged guy who’s happy and apparently secure in his job working for one of those mega-mall companies that haven’t quite caught on in the UK yet.

But lo! There is a screenplay to be contrived. Larry is sacked for not having completed college (shades of Somerset Maugham’s The Warden, but the movie doesn’t follow up on this). Unable to find another job, he decides to go back to school and enrols in a series of classes at his local adult education college. Here he meets a number of people, most importantly unhappily married and more than a bit cynical English professor Mercedes (Julia Roberts), and ever-so-boho fellow student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – as Roberts’ character says in one of the film’s best lines, ‘What do men see in irritating free spirits?’

So, Talia gets Larry to be a bit more relaxed and to dress better, and invites him to join her scooter gang (all this seems equally implausible in the picture, by the way). Larry’s all-around decency and niceness, meanwhile, have not gone unnoticed by Mercedes, who has slung out her porn-loving waster of a husband. Thus I draw the dots; I leave the joining of them to you, my reader, to work out for yourself. Do not over-think this one – the script certainly doesn’t.

The bottom line is that Larry Crowne is a romantic comedy with aspirations to be a ‘feel good’ movie. Well, it didn’t make me laugh very much, nor did it really cause me to consider abandoning¬†celibacy as a lifestyle choice – but, on the other hand, unlike most ‘feel good’ movies it didn’t make me want to slip off to a quiet corner and open a vein, so I suppose that’s a point in its favour.

The main problem with the film is that it aspires to tell a proper story about supposedly real people and their lives. In a landscape currently dominated by shapeshifting robots, OTT pirates and CGI superheroes, all pursuing spurious plot McGuffins, this is to be commended, but the script here is executed with such broad strokes that it’s never for a moment completely convincing. No-one actually feels or behaves quite like a real person would.

Hanks’ direction is also more than a bit – well, to call it manipulative would be to make it sound more subtle than it is. The ‘How to Set a Mood’ section of Tom Hanks’ Guide to Film Directing would, I suspect, say something like ‘Choose some music. For happy scenes, choose upbeat music. For sad scenes, choose slow music. Play the music over the scene as loudly as you can get away with.’ The problem is that too often the music becomes a substitute for emotion rather than an accompaniment to it. When a character experiences a moment of great personal joy and the soundtrack duly bursts into life, that’s fine if you’re sharing the emotion. Most of the time I wasn’t, because what was happening on screen just didn’t ring true, and the effect was rather like turning up late to a party where everyone else was already drunk: not sharing the atmosphere and feeling slightly awkward and uncomfortable because of it.

I could go on to talk about how the central romance does a very good impression of appearing out of thin air, and the rest of the script is full of the slightly forced quirkiness that characterised co-writer Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I think you get the idea. (And Larry Crowne also has possibly the worst closing credits I’ve ever seen.)

One thing this film isn’t short of is acting talent. To be fair to him, as a performer Hanks is charismatic enough to make you believe in Larry, although he’s trading heavily on audience goodwill throughout. Roberts has a slightly trickier task as a less immediately likeable character. Her career is, of course, entering the Forbidden Zone, inasmuch as Hollywood scripts really don’t cater for leading ladies past a certain age, and on the strength of this picture she’s going to struggle to make it as a character performer. Elsewhere people like Cedric the Entertainer and Pam Grier pop up and do okay, but the most consistently amusing performance comes from (of all people) George Takei from Star Trek, as a slightly preening economics professor. (There’s a Star Trek gag at one point in the film, which seems a little self-conscious as a result.)

The absolute best thing I can say about Larry Crowne is that it passed 99 minutes in a wholly inoffensive and mildly engaging fashion. As I said, it’s not really very funny nor is it especially moving, and it’s certainly not remotely believeable. In some ways it’s almost like the negative of a Woody Allen movie, in that in place of the relentless pessimism and misanthropy that have characterised Allen’s latter movies, nearly everyone is deep-down decent and understanding and actually a pretty good person. There are certainly much worse messages to put in a movie – but you need a bit more than a message to make a good movie.

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