The first thing I loved about this film won't be what you expect, it's not Hanks, and it's not Roberts being Roberts, it's actually Roberts being something that she definitely isn't in most films and doing it wonderfully. Actually I lied, the first thing I really loved about the film was the ELO track opening the film and putting me in just the right mood.
Larry Crowne is fun; it has some seriousness to it and a few messages, and something that I really liked a healthy dose of realism and an absence of the usual Hollywood romanticism.
He struggles to find a job and when he finds out that he could go back to college and get an education for himself, he does just that returning for an a mix of courses including economics and public speaking. His tutors are rather strange, and the one for the public speaking course is a woman who is going through problems in her marriage and has lost the enjoyment she once had for teaching.
The two characters are brought together through the class and Crowne's new friends in the form of the young scooter gang he's joined. Through them and the class he gains a new perspective on life and a new focus for what is important.
When the film opened to ELO it put me on the right track straight away, I love that band and the tone of music was perfect for the introduction of the character of Larry Crowne and his story, it set the audience straight into the fun frame of mind to join the character.
However it doesn't take long for us to get thrown the curve ball along with Crowne as he is unceremoniously sacked. It's here where I started realising that there is a little more to this film than the standard romantic comedy I was expecting because the scene is rather true to life, a little painfully so, as the idiots obtain the management roles for all the wrong reasons, and the people who are actually working for the good of the store are the ones who get the worse deal...wait, a bit of personal pain coming out there?
Anyway the point is that throughout the film there is a level of realism to it. There's the social realism of Larry Crowne's modern life divorced and living alone, of him coming to terms with being out of work after so long, of companies not caring so much about its employees as it once used to, of Mercedes Tainot's struggling marriage, her disillusionment with life and of course the beginning of romance between the two characters.
You see this isn't just a romantic comedy straight out of Hollywood, and it's something that Tom Hanks says in the extras, this is an attempt to make a more realistic story about two people crossing paths and falling in love. The bursts of fireworks, of bolts of lightning and love hitting you like a brick wall isn't how the real world pans out, this isn't how love happens for most of us. It burns slowly, and while it may arrive quickly, it's more like a slow building Guy Fawkes fire than the main firework display, it may not flash as brightly as quickly but it burns slowly and much, much longer.
This is one of the key things I really liked about Larry Crowne and what made it fresher than anything else we've watched in the old and tired romantic comedy genre and who better than Tom Hanks to direct the film that brings a different view to the well visited genre?
Our two main characters notice each other, and there's something about each of them that draws them towards the other, but there's no instant crash and smash. It takes a lot of time and travel for the two to actually get somewhere. Actually the length of a whole semester at the college, the break-up of a marriage, and much teaching from Crowne's new friends before there's the consideration of the beginning of a relationship.
What's more is that we don't see Crowne's friends manoeuvring to bring them together in convoluted and ill-fated schemes that accidentally come right in the end as you'd expect from a romantic comedy, instead they are helping and building him as a person, and it just so happens that this is one of the things that helps him, in the end, become a better Larry Crowne, and through that become a little more attractive to Mercedes Tainot.
While the film doesn't portray the relationships that both experience as over complicated - after all that would lose the heart of the romantic comedy wouldn't it? - the story does touch upon them. Crowne is struggling to keep living, he's saddled with a growing bad debt in the form of his home, and Mercedes is in a lost cause of a marriage on the border of turning to alcohol. All this is reading between the clear intent of the story, as going too far down these routes would turn it away from the positive and uplifting film it is meant to be, and it is, but the point is there's a little more realism there.
I've heard a few people commenting about the romantic relationship feeling more like a friendship and lacking that big Hollywood explosive sparkle, but I feel they're missing the point here, because this isn't meant to be one of those Hollywood romantic comedies, something I think I've made clear by this point.
Anyway, let me move on and mention the other part of the film that really got me excited, Julia Roberts surprised the hell out of me. Now I know she can act, and act the socks off most male actors in the same class and above, but she's so often not given the roles. Here, like the film, we don't get the same standard storyline with the character, far from having a little character quirk she's actually verging on depression. Her character has a biting and sarcastic fire to her which is why I fell in love with her from the opening. She's hilarious and while the writing of her lines and character is spot on it's her delivery which is absolutely fantastic and delivers the perfect character. I almost enjoyed Roberts performance and character more than the film itself.
There are some equally strong characters around the leads as well, and they all perform their characters really well, I have to point out in particular the performance from George Takei who doesn't appear that much but the character he's given has some hilarious moments and he delivers his excellent lines with all seriousness. I loved the interactions between his professor and Crowne, the running gag of the mobile. His maniacal laugh and his performance provide for some good laughs throughout.
I find it hard to laugh at the standard, manufactured comedy that comes out of Hollywood, it feels like it's drumming the same old beats and turning to the audience and staring, waiting for the laugh on cue. This isn't what happens with Larry Crowne. There was spontaneous and organic laughter throughout from myself and my wife, and when we weren't laughing we had big smiles across our faces, enjoying every scene and the fun and enjoyment that came through the entire film.
This is in no small part down to the excellent writing and the fact that they haven't followed the standard conventions for the romantic comedies. The comedy comes through the more realistic tone of the story, and there's still plenty of laughter and comedy to be had from that, more so in fact.
The picture is good, no complaints there, but there's also nothing to really comment on in terms of dazzling picture but then that isn't what this film is about, plus it's the DVD not the Blu-ray.
Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2/0
Likewise there wasn't that much about the audio to stand out. Background and atmospheric noises were there but that didn't cover too much. For a film with plenty of dialogue and covering characters and relationships it did provide some audio separation to take you into the film and there was some use of the rears. The Blu-ray offers a DTS HD Master audio track which should make the audio crisper and will certainly bring out the very good soundtrack.
Making of Larry Crowne; Fun on the Set; Deleted Scenes; Tom Hanks Interview
Making of Larry Crowne
The making of is the typical stuff from the press materials box but there's a decent chance to hear something from the stars as well as some behind the scenes action.
Fun on the Set
A ten minute collection of moments of laughter from the film including a cracking knitting scene that shows just how much fun Julia Roberts is as well as how much fun it must have been to work on the that film with the cast and crew.
Almost eight minutes of scenes not included in the final film. I liked the addition to the firing scene that gives a sense of the shock and shame felt at the time as well as the reactions from the other people around Crowne.
Tom Hanks Interview
Again this is a press material piece but there's some good information to be had from what he says, it's not all the standard stuff you'd expect to hear.
Larry Crowne is a great film that has a slightly different take on the romantic comedies we see being churned out all the time as it looks to characters and a romantic storyline based more on the real world than the Hollywood sparkle.
It's a fantastically written film with great performances and a couple from surprising names. The best by far was Julia Roberts and her bitingly harsh and bitter character with Tom Hanks giving a strong performance along with a recognisable and entertaining supporting cast.
I loved the film for the non-overly romanticised story and the fun and enjoyment the story brings. We had smiles on our faces throughout and we laughed a lot without feeling manipulated to do so or through the usual shock and stock jokes, but with genuine laughter with the characters. We totally enjoyed watching the film and seeing the characters develop. Excellent stuff Mr Hanks and Ms Roberts.