Larry Crowne (Hanks) is made redundant from his supermarket job because he doesn't have a college degree and, with other jobs thin on the ground, decides to become a student. In community college he meets new friends, and develops an interest in his unhappily married teacher, Mercedes (Roberts).
While 1996’s That Thing You Do! had a clear arc, this is a less focused tale. Hanks’ Crowne is a puppyishly enthusiastic team leader in a large store. When he is made redundant and can’t find other work, he switches his SUV for a scooter, and work for community college. Soon he’s making a new, disparate bunch of friends, accepting tuition from Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and forming a crush on his teacher, Mercedes (Julia Roberts).
Crowne’s a good guy, and a hero to root for, but the plot is also puppyishly enthusiastic, dashing around to spend time with Mercedes and her no-goodnik husband (Bryan Cranston), show us classroom scenes from both speech class and economics (George Takei in arch and scene-stealing form as the latter’s professor), join a scooter gang, visit with Crowne’s neighbours, land a part-time job, and allow Talia to drop out of college to open a vintage store. It’s the sort of rich detail that nicely creates a sense of community, but if — as the title suggests — this is one man’s journey, it’s beside the point. For long stretches the putative lead is so neglected that elements essential to his story — like the love story with Mercedes — end up a little under-cooked. While Roberts’ character is well developed, thawing gradually from a disappointed near-alcoholic into someone infected by Crowne’s optimism almost despite herself, the pair together needed just a tiny bit more attention.
That said, like That Thing You Do!, this is such a well-intentioned film it would take a hard heart to reject it outright. We could wish that Hanks had been a less generous writer/director, and kept the focus more on his own character, or that he had dared to tread more political territory with some discussion of the economy, but what’s here is a gentle and — yes — likable character story.
This one coasts by on Hanks’ immense appeal and charm, but more focus and a touch more sharpness are needed to make it really come alive.
Reviewed by Helen O'Hara