Through classics like BIG, SPLASH, FORREST GUMP, PHILADELPHIA and the ever popular TOY STORY trilogies, Tom Hanks has endeared himself to movie-goers for generations. One would assume that pairing him with America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts in a romantic comedy would be a recipe for instant box office success. Sadly, instead of a gourmet meal, it’s more like we were served a TV dinner that was bland, uninspiring and quite frankly, not really satisfying.
Larry Crowne (Hanks) has worked at big box store U-Mart since serving in the US Navy as a cook almost 20 years ago. He is a compassionate person who clearly loves his job and the friendships of his fellow employees. With eight “Employee of the Month” awards in his possession, we are led to believe that U-Mart respects his hard work as much as he respects the company. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Corporate has called our leading man into a casual meeting that results in his termination. A shocked Crowne inquires why he’s being let go and in a round-about confusing answer, he soon concludes that it is because he never went to college.
Crowne returns home and receives an encouraging pep talk from his neighbor Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) who reminds him that it’s never too late to learn and points him in the direction of East Valley Community College. Crowne enrolls into Speech 217 taught by the striking Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) who would rather be an instructor in a Shakespeare class than an introductory communications course.
Crowne embraces both his speech and economics classes with as much determination and hard work as we would expect from his character. He befriends a fellow classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who introduces him to the exciting world of texting, scooters and trendy clothes.
Mercy, on the other hand, fights a bitter spirit, porn-addicted husband and preference for adult beverages that are rum based. She rarely smiles, always complains and is a complete downer during the entire hour and a half. We have a rare glimpse of the Julia Roberts’ million wattage smile we have come to know and love, but unfortunately, it’s during a drunken night and lasts for roughly two minutes.
Mercy’s storyline seems believable but is ridiculously depressing. Crowne’s storyline should be equally depressing, but instead it seems unreal due to its sugary sweetness. Together the characters are on such opposite sides of the spectrum that you neither want nor care for them to have any kind of chemistry. What’s even more unconvincing is that everything seems to end up in a neat and tidy bow at the end.
In the end, it was strange seeing two of my favorite actors not click in a romantic comedy. Hanks tried too hard and Roberts phoned it in. Perhaps we should all take a clue from Mercy and watch it under the influence of an adult beverage. Preferably something rum based.