After what felt like years of frantic publicity – manic appearances on Univision, two Letterman-crashes, scooters being raffled off, the stars giving long, anxious interviews, a confusing trailer appearing on TV more than Judge Joe Brown – Larry Crowne opened in theatres this weekend.
The trailer is confusing because its star, Tom Hanks, looks so fat-headed, wild and slow, it is unclear whether this is, as one writer of YouTube epigrams suggested, Forrest Gump 2.
It is not, I gather, having watched a much longer trailer (I have only ever seen Hanks films under the kinds of conditions Alex must endure in A Clockwork Orange).
It is, as most of you must know by now, a story about Larry, a middle-aged man who works in a sort-of Wal-Mart but is fired, preposterously, for not having attended college.
So Larry goes to community college – as did Hanks, who speaks movingly of his studying Shakespeare there, “One tragedy, one history, one comedy – that was a life-changer.”
At college, he takes a class taught by Julia Roberts, a depressed blender-drink drunk whose curriculum appears to be small talk, cocktail chatter, or something erudite that those big-box-store maniacs are looking for in a company man. Roberts and Hanks, of course, pair up.
Larry Crowne is a romcom about starting over, but also a film that proceeds from profoundest metanoia: that rare moment in which one realizes everything one believes and knows is wrong – as Hanks has said in interviews, when the “rug” is “pulled out” from under you, and you change.
Has this happened to Tom Hanks? He has, after all, called the film “a very personal mission.”
His success story is legendary: He began as a stage actor who appeared in TV series in the 1980s and 1990s, including his doomed star vehicle, Bosom Buddies, and random appearances in shows including Family Ties and Happy Days, as an enemy of the Fonz.
His antipathy towards Fonzie earned him Ron Howard’s attention, who cast him in Splash in 1984. This kick-started the first part of his long career: During this time he also starred in Big, a popular film about metaphysical pedophilia. But he also made Turner & Hooch and Punchline and was, in other words, doomed – until he started playing romantic and/or dramatic leads.
In the late 1990s, with Cast Away, and after Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Apollo 13, Hanks became the most successful lead actor in history, a two-time Academy Award winner, a Hollywood legend.
And then the rug was pulled out from under him.
There must be fans of the newly gelatinous, monotonic actor who would argue that his having been in the 2006 blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, and that his familiar presence as Woody in the Toy Story franchise, are arguments for his continuing success.
But the truth is that he has been floundering for years and had to finance Larry Crowne (which he co-wrote with My Big Fat One Hit Wondergirl Nia Vardalos) himself, a decision he was quite belligerent about in one of the many interviews that kept assaulting my television.
In these interviews, Hanks would feign a conversation with a major studio head’s refusal to back this film (getting reviewed at 35 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and dropping): “Have I mentioned that its stars ME AND JULIA ROBERTS?!?” he would scream, incredulously.
A disaster so far, Larry Crowne is an everyman story based on the modern economy that does not seem to understand two things about the average hard-luck case. One, the average person is usually plunged into a Wild Turkey-driven rage, then bleary depression after losing his job and will never feel inspired by the idea of community college. Just watch any ad for a similar school. The spokesman is always yelling abusively at someone, “Get off the couch! Pick up the phone! DO IT NOW!” Does this sound like the beginning of a life-affirming choice?
And two, audiences are flocking to see raunchy women ( Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher are still hanging tough in the top ten at the box office), not yet another spin of When Sally Got E-mail from Forrest.
Julia Roberts cackles on cue in the film and plays a married drunk, which is edgy for her, but she feels like a Hail Mary pass, thrown by an increasingly manic and desperate Hanks.
Is Hanks’ fall from grace heart-rending? Define grace: He is abhorrent in his serious films, cloying in his chick flicks and Woody is a jerk.
He is now merely miscast.
That sea monster-faced man in Pirates of the Caribbean (Davy Jones, looking, yes, exactly like Tom Hanks)? Now there’s a “personal choice” that would have paid for itself.