A part-time actress and an unproven director have teamed up to make “Larry Crowne,” a sparkless romantic comedy about a fired blue-collar worker who falls for his community-college speech teacher.
What makes it notable is that the actress is Julia Roberts and her director/co-star is Tom Hanks.
It’s only the fourth major screen role for Roberts in the past seven years and just the second feature directed by Hanks, who also co-wrote the script with Nia Vardalos of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
Roberts’s rust and Hanks’s inexperience behind the camera are evident in “Larry Crowne.” The comatose film is as boring as Roberts’s onscreen husband (Bryan Cranston), a deadbeat writer who spends most of his time surfing porn on the Internet.
Mercedes Tainot (Roberts) is a burnout who tries to get her classes canceled for lack of attendance. Hanks’s title character worked at a Wal-Mart clone before getting sacked for not having a college degree, which supposedly limited his chances to climb the corporate ladder.
Divorced and saddled with an underwater mortgage, Larry takes the advice of his neighbors (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson) and enrolls in the local college, where he joins an eccentric scooter-riding posse led by a cute student (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who nicknames him Lance Corona.
Larry, who’s shy and awkward when he starts school, evolves into a polished speaker under Tainot’s tutelage. (He also takes an economics course taught by Dr. Matsutani, played by Star Trekker George Takei with a mad cackle.) Tainot likewise makes a stark transition, from cynical professor to enthusiastic mentor.
I guess we’re supposed to be inspired by their ability to change and grow. Maybe I would have been if someone had bothered to create real characters, instead of social symbols.
“Larry Crowne,” from Universal Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
Terri is an obese teenager who lives with his senile uncle, wears pajamas to school and sets mouse traps in the woods. He befriends two classmates, a scrawny loner named Chad and Heather, a pretty girl ostracized for an act of exhibitionism.
That odd trio and their nerdy vice principal (John C. Reilly) are the unlikely heroes of “Terri,” an unsparing, strangely charming story about dealing with rejection and ridicule.
The film captures the loneliness of being an outsider in an adolescent world that prizes conformity. The characters may seem like weirdos, but director Azazel Jacobs and screenwriter Patrick de Witt show us the humanity underneath their strange veneers.
Jacob Wysocki, Bridger Zadina and Olivia Crocicchia are affecting as the teenagers, while Reilly revels in his role as a kind-hearted school administrator who knows what it’s like to be an outcast.
“Terri,” from ATO Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)