FILM: Larry Crowne

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Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are two of the most successful actors of their generation.

Thanks to Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and the Toy Story trilogy, Hanks is one of the highest-grossing actors at the box office and Roberts was reportedly the first actress to command a fee of 20 million dollars for a role.

So they seem an unlikely choice to play characters who have fallen on hard times in this recession-themed romantic comedy directed by Hanks and co-written by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).

Despite the timely financial gloom as a backdrop, Larry Crowne is an uplifting cinematic trifle garnished with an unwavering belief that it’s never too late to embrace life.

In the case of the titular everyman, he overcomes redundancy by dressing 20 years younger, slicking up his hair, swapping his gas-guzzling car for a scooter and broadening his education.

Essentially, he gets down with the kids.

Larry Crowne (Hanks) left school and signed up as a cook with the Navy, serving his country until he secured a job as a team leader at a superstore, where the staff adores him.

On the day he hopes to win another Employee Of The Month award, Larry is called to the staff room.

“I’m sorry, we’ve come to a parting of the ways,” reveals his manager sombrely.

They are downsizing Larry because he has no educational qualifications and therefore cannot climb the corporate ladder.

Concerned about how he will pay the mortgage, Larry decides to broaden his skills base by enrolling for public speaking and economics classes at East Valley Community College.

Arriving late on his first day, Larry meets feisty teacher Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), who is stuck in an unfulfilling marriage to her husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston).

“My high [point of the day]? I’m drinking it!” she snarls at Dean, downing a rum cocktail to dull the pain.

Larry gains in confidence with encouragement from classmate Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and next-door neighbours Lamar (Cedric The Entertainer) and B’Ella (Taraji P Henson).

Eventually, the former Navy man musters the courage to ask Mercedes to join him on his haphazard journey of self-discovery.

Larry Crowne is a sweet yet very slight portrait of modern times, as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man who refuses to be floored by life’s hard knocks.

There’s no palpable screen chemistry between Hanks and Roberts, and neither actor is stretched by their role.

The script pays fleeting attention to the emotional and physical stress of unemployment, remaining optimistic in the face of minor adversity and clearly telegraphing happy endings for the thinly sketched characters.

When Mercedes muses, “I wonder if I make a dollop of difference to anybody?”, we have to regretfully concede that for us, she doesn’t.

By Damon Smith.

Released: July 1 (UK & Ireland) (12A, 98 mins)

SWEARING, NO SEX, NO VIOLENCE, RATING: 5/10