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Tom Hanks Directed a Julia Roberts Rom-Com You Forgot About!
2023/09/12

Tom Hanks is many things. He's America's dad. He's Woody the cowboy doll in Toy Story. He's in Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, A League of Their Own, and so many other classic movies. He can do anything from tell profane knock-knock jokes in Catch Me If You Can to make moviegoers cry with quiet tender expressions of compassion in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. He's an incredible actor, but Hanks also likes to work behind the camera. He's not only a prolific producer but has also dabbled in directing feature-length movies like the 2011 romantic-comedy Larry Crowne. That feature also starred Hanks and reunited him with

Julia Roberts.

It's easy to imagine a version of Larry Crowne that took off with moviegoers like a rocket. This was a meeting of two of the most iconic 1990s romantic comedy leads, headlining a motion picture co-written by My Big Fat Greek Wedding mastermind Nia Vardalos. Larry Crowne had enough big-name talent to basically guarantee enormous box office success. Instead, Larry Crowne flopped at the box office and has largely been forgotten in the years since its debut.

What Is 'Larry Crowne' About?

The titular lead of Larry Crowne (played by Tom Hanks) begins this movie by getting fired from his big-box store job.

The reason he got let go? In addition to the company experiencing complications from the 2008 recession, Crowne doesn't have a college degree. Larry opts to rectify that issue and go to the nearby East Valley Community College. There, he meets Professor Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), who's stuck in a troublesome marriage with porn-obsessed husband Dean ( Bryan Cranston). The film follows Larry and his trusty scooter getting into all kinds of scrapes that tend to use the skills he's learning at college. There's also a potential romance blossoming between Crowne and Tainot if you can believe it.

Larry Crowne is a movie so easygoing in its vibes that it's practically designed to not upset even the most sensitive grandparent in the audience. Even by the standards of mainstream American romantic comedies, nothing too challenging is ever offered up on the screen. The camerawork never opts for any surprises, which makes the few stabs at visual gags entirely too predictable. Meanwhile, the script by Hanks and Vardalos struggles to balance its laid-back atmosphere with its affinity for melodramatic romantic twists. The two paradoxical elements never gel properly, rendering any romantic tension in the story non-existent.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Larry Crowne from a storytelling perspective is how much it tries to placate its target demo of older viewers. If something like Easy Rider was a rebuke of older establishment figures circa. 1969, Larry Crowne is comfort food for the older crowd circa. 2011. The main middle-aged characters constantly make jokes about younger people always being on their phones while internet pornography is depicted as the greatest scourge facing the planet. Younger characters like Talia ( Gugu Mbatha-Raw) don't have internal lives, they only exist to help older characters navigate the modern world and all its darn technology.

There is something borderline amusing about how often Larry Crowne strains to hit easy crowd-pleaser targets for older viewers, though this approach certainly didn't do the film any favors at the box office.

Julia Roberts & Tom Hanks Together Sounds Perfect, Right?

The biggest movies Tom Hanks has ever appeared in tend to feature the actor either inhabiting a recognizable historical figure and/or are just feel-good projects designed from the ground up to send audiences home happy. Larry Crowne was clearly meant to emulate the success of the latter movies, but it failed to have as interesting of a concept as past Hanks hits like

You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. The basic premise of a middle-aged guy strapped for cash and having to return to college in the modern world didn't promise the same level of excitement as The Da Vinci Code. Nor did it have a period-era setting like the backdrop of A League of Their Own that could make real-world turmoil more bearable to watch. Rooting Larry Crowne in the anxieties of 2011 made it look a little too heavy for just a fun time at the movies, while its basic premise never seemed engaging enough to attract the large crowds of moviegoers that showed up for other Hanks movies.

The feature also coincided with a weird lull for Julia Roberts as a bankable leading lady. Though she appeared in the box office hit Eat Pray Love in 2010, most of her star vehicles in the 2010s, like Mirror Mirror and Secret in Their Eyes, failed to make an impact at the box office. The 2022 hit Ticket to Paradise proved that audiences will still come out to see a Julia Roberts movie made after 2004, but moviegoers are clearly choosier on what Roberts movies they see theatrically. Much like how Larry Crowne failed to deliver to audiences what they wanted out of a Tom Hanks movie, so too did this feature suffer because of what we expect from Julia Roberts.

There were plenty of other factors that tanked Larry Crowne at the box office, including a generic poster that failed to identify anything discernible about the movie beyond its love for scooters and motorcycles. However, what ultimately sank this movie was how it was too old-fashioned for its own good. The same year Larry Crowne tried to win over a professor played by George Takei, Hollywood delivered not one but two different romantic comedies about best friends trying out a commitment-free sexual relationship. Even though that concept had existed for decades before mainstream studios decided it was normalized enough to be the center of an

Ashton Kutcher star vehicle, its constant presence in 2011 romantic-comedy cinema was incredibly notable.

In a year where Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis were embracing banging their best friends, Adam Sandler was going to wacky lengths to create a fake family to win over Brooklyn Decker, and even Jumping the Broom provided a tragically rare mainstream rom-com with an all-Black cast, Larry Crowne was…bemoaning cell phones and making jokes about older people fumbling around with technology. The biggest romantic comedies of 2011 either offered something at least surface-level new or provided lots of eye candy and escapism.

No wonder Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts puttering around on a motorcycle while Walter White obsessed over internet porn didn't take the nation by storm. Tom Hanks can do a lot of things, but he couldn't make America care about Larry Crowne.

The Big Picture Larry Crowne failed to resonate with audiences, despite the star power of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, due to its lackluster script and predictable camerawork. The movie tried too hard to cater to older viewers, making jokes about younger people and relying on outdated stereotypes. In a year filled with innovative and escapist romantic comedies, Larry Crowne felt too old-fashioned and failed to offer anything new or exciting to audiences.

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