By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

One day Larry Crowne is on top of the heap, his most recent “Employee of the Month” award, one of many, still a fresh memory. The next days he’s cleaning out his locker and seeing a different guy in the mirror.

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From Crowne to clown in 24 hours.   So who is he now?

Larry Crowne is a low-keyed recession-era comedy that examines the need for reinventing oneself during challenging times and that underscores the axiom that there can be second acts in adult life.

Tom Hanks plays the upbeat and affable title character, who — even though he has excelled at, and been acknowledged for, his fine work, but because he doesn’t have a college degree — loses his job at the downsizing big-box retailer where he’s worked since he got out of the Navy.

So, divorced and unemployed, Larry confronts his particular mid-life crisis by selling his possessions, trading his SUV for a scooter, and enrolling in the local junior college in an effort to more or less start over and redefine his life.

His downbeat public speaking professor is Mercedes Tainot, played by Julia Roberts, whose heart is barely in her teaching or her marriage (to a guy who would appear to be addicted to Internet porn).  She spends a lot of her time drinking and thinking.  In that order.

Larry suddenly finds himself drawn to her, both as a professor and as a woman.  But although they are age-appropriate as romantic partners, there are rules in academia about …

Auteur Hanks — whose last (and first) gig as a writer-director was 1996’s charmingly entertaining comedy That Thing You Do — also co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay with Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame).

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The plot, such as it is, is based on his experiences at California’s Chabot College and goes a little soft in the conflict department, suggesting itself as My Big Fat Weak Narrative.  But it’s still a thoroughly watchable and comforting entertainment.

The chemistry of Hanks and Roberts, who worked together on screen in 2007 in Mike Nichols’ political fable, Charlie Wilson’s War, might once again be described as sufficient but not abundant.  But major stars this magnetic don’t have to push it.

Despite the title, the easygoing Larry Crowne plays like an ensemble piece because director Hanks, aiming for a Capraesque folksiness, is perhaps a tad too generous concentrating on peripheral characters — played by Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, George Takei, Bryan Cranston, Rita Wilson (Hanks’ real-life wife), and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, among quite a few others.  This comes at the expense of actor Hanks’ protagonist, but does not prevent the film from registering as an uplifting character study about a likable character.

The film is, come to think of it, so audience-friendly agreeable — at times being sitcom-y enough to strongly resemble an episode of the TV series “Community” — you find yourself mildly disappointed at the conclusion.  The script’s ultimate lack of thematic ambition is the reason that the film seems to stop instead of end.

Yes, it’s overly eager to please and unwilling to confront the grim reality of unemployment in recessionary times.  But that’s another movie.

This one is unapologetically upbeat. And as a dialed-down-a-notch antidote to overbearing summer explode-a-thons, this is nonetheless a cool-drink-on-a-hot-day treat.

So we’ll reinvent 3 stars out of 4.  A lightweight but amiable romantic comedy, Larry Crowne is Tom Hanks’ openhearted ode to optimism.

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