It’s a slow week for home video, with only one major theatrical release making its way to stores: a recession-era drama starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
Tom Hanks has an extensive filmography as an actor and producer, but he’s not nearly as prolific as a director. During his career, he’s helmed a handful of TV projects, but – prior to this year – his only attempt at directing a feature film was 1996’s “That Thing You Do!”
After a 15-year wait, Hanks decided to direct again, producing “Larry Crowne,” a film he co-authored with Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”). Hanks also handles the title role, delivering the story of an aging department store manager who is downsized because he doesn’t have a college degree. Unable to find another job, Larry decides to attend a community college where he studies with a frustrated speech teacher named Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) and a self-reverent economics professor (George Takei).
His plan is to gain the necessary skills for a more productive career, but his college experience does more than prepare him for work. First, Larry finds a devoted and energetic friend in Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a college coed who likes the fact that Larry drives a scooter to school. Second, he discovers that Mercedes’ rough and judgmental exterior has more to do with her circumstances than who she is as a person.
In many ways, “Larry Crowne” is the flip side of the fantastic 2009 drama “Up in the Air.” That movie used our struggling economy and soaring unemployment rates as an excuse to paint a bleak picture of America’s capitalist culture. “Crowne,” on the other hand, uses a layoff to argue that life is about more than money and that happiness can be found in the strangest of places.
Despite the depressing setup, “Larry Crowne” is a sunny story, made more so by the unflappable optimism of its title character. Hanks portrays Larry as a true good guy, a man who works hard for his money and makes minimal complaints when it goes away. He’s not happy when he’s fired, but rather than grow bitter, he examines his situation and makes the most of it. Mercedes takes the opposite tact. As portrayed by Roberts, she is a tired and resentful educator, frustrated by her students and disgusted by her porn-addicted husband (Bryan Cranston). A man like Larry is a revelation to her.
Hanks and Roberts have an easygoing chemistry, and “Crowne” has a sweet disposition that’s hard to resist. It is not, however, deep or particularly well crafted. Larry is the only character that is fully developed, and Hanks doesn’t do enough to establish his bond with Mercedes. Because of that, their relationship feels forced, and key scenes play out with an odd sense of melodrama. Also, the film would have been more realistic – and more poignant – if Larry were forced to struggle to overcome despair. It’s not a bad thing for a man to stay positive, but it’s tough to make great cinema out of a flat emotional arc.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and a collection of deleted scenes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Beginners”: Ewan McGregor portrays a man entering a new romantic relationship while coming to terms with the fact that his father lived a closeted gay life for decades. Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent also star. Written and directed by Mike Mills.
“DreamWorks Dragons”: Direct-to-video follow-up to the 2010 hit “How to Train Your Dragon.” This set features two animated adventures from the characters made popular in the original movie.
“Farscape” – The Complete Series: Blu-ray boxed set including all 88 episodes of the science-fiction drama about a lost American astronaut who allies himself with alien refugees. Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley, Lani John Tupu and Jonathan Hardy star.
“The Rules of the Game”: Digitally restored, Criterion Collection release of French director Jean Renoir’s 1939 comedy of manners. The movie, a brash critique of 1930s French society, is considered one of the greatest of all time. Presented in French with English subtitles.
“Three Colors – Blue, White, Red”: Boxed set including all three films in Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” Trilogy. The movies, originally released between 1993 and 1994, are named after the colors of the French flag, and they meditate on principles of the French Revolution. Actors include Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche and Irene Jacob. Presented in French and Polish with English subtitles.
“Rio Sex Comedy”: A group of tourists find themselves enchanted by the different sides of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Bill Pullman, Charlotte Rampling, Irene Jacob and Jean-Marc Roulot star. Written and directed by Jonathan Nossiter.
“West Side Story” – 50th Anniversary Edition: The iconic, 1961 musical directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise makes its Blu-ray debut. This special release includes a host of bonus features, plus a tribute CD and collectible memorabilia.
“My Fair Lady”: This 1964 musical from director George Cukor is also making its Blu-ray debut this week. Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison star.
“Spy Kids” Triple Feature: “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” hits home video next week, so Lionsgate decided to package the first three movies onto a single Blu-ray set. All three films were directed by Robert Rodriguez. Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino star.
“Infernal Affairs”: Blu-ray debut of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller that inspired Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning drama “The Departed.” The film focuses on an undercover police officer who learns that a mole in his department could jeopardize his mission. Presented in Cantonese, Thai and English with subtitles.
“Evil Dead II” – 25th Anniversary Edition: New Blu-ray treatment of the second film in director Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” franchise. The release includes the movie plus a 90-minute, making-of documentary.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.