Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), a former Navy cook, has been employee-of-the-month nine times in a row at the giant store U-Mart, but just when he thinks that he’ll receive it for the 10th time, his employers inform him that they must let him go because he doesn’t have a college education. So, after selling his car and trading belongs for a scooter from his neighbors, Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) and B'Ella (Taraji P. Henson), he enrolls in two courses at East Valley Community College: The Art of Informal Remarks, taught by a sexy woman, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), and Economics, taught by an offbeat elderly man, Dr. Matsutani (George Takei). Mercedes happens to be stuck in a loveless marriage with her abusive, porn-addicted husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston). Larry’s classmates include Nelly Lala Pinedo (Maria Canals-Barrera), Dave Mack (Malcolm Barrett), Natalie Calimeris (Grace Gummer), Steve Dibiasi (Rami Malek), and, in Econ class, Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who’s in a moped gang with her boyfriend, Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama).
Whom does Larry find himself becoming romantically involved with? You guessed it: Dr. Matsutani---oops, this standard, bland Hollywood fare, so of course it could only be the sexy Professor Tainot. The screenplay by writer/director Tom Hanks together with co-writer Nia Vardalos follows every formula in the book so that everything can be easily predicted, which is fine, but there’s barely any wit or realism to be found. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts lack chemistry together, and, more often than not, the attempted jokes fall flat. The only somewhat funny scenes occur whenever Dr. Matsutani gives his lecture, although the joke about him taking away Larry’s cell phone mid-class becomes tiresome after a while. The same can be said for Julia Robert’s big, fake trademark smile which gets annoying--- admittedly, her character here is much more appealing and less self-centered than the one in last year’s awful Eat Pray Love. By the time the end credits roll, though, you won’t care about what happens to anyone on screen because no one seems remotely human; they’re just there as plot devices.
At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Larry Crowne is an excruciatingly contrived, bland and asinine romantic comedy that lacks both romance and comedy. You’d be more entertained watching paint dry.
Terri Thompson (Jacob Wysocki), an obese, lonely teenager, lives with his senile uncle, James (Creed Bratton), and prefers to wear pajamas to school. In his free time, he’s either taking care of his uncle or setting mice traps to kill them and to watch as hawks swoop down to eat them. The school’s vice principal, Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly), ask Terri to step into his office after the umpteenth time that he has arrived late to school. Not surprisingly, he tries to lend him an ear to help him cope with teen angst and all the bullying that he experiences day-to-day. Eventually, Terri befriends two schoolmates who also happen to be social outcasts, namely, Chad (Bridger Zadina) and Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), a beautiful yet troubled teen who got caught in an embarrassing situation when others, including Terri, witnessed her getting fingered by a classmate in school. Surviving high school is far from easy especially given that Terri feels lonely, confused and alienated, and lacks a parental figure in his life, but now he has the chance of overcoming his hardships thanks to his new friends who pay attention to him.
Unlike most teen angst films that rely heavily on comedy, sex, drug and foul language as a means of entertaining, Terri focuses on the dramatic, darker elements of teen angst while remaining character-driven and, more often than not, grounded in reality. Most importantly, writer/director Azazel Jacobs together with co-writer Patrick DeWitt blend the heavy drama with just the right amount of comic relief, particularly during the scenes with Mr. Fitzgerald. Jacob Wysocki, the heart and soul of the film, gives such a convincingly moving, well-nuanced performance that he turns Terri into a more engrossing coming-of-age tale than usual. You’ll find yourself either sympathizing with Terri or, perhaps, empathizing with him because, after all, many people had experienced bullying and angst while growing up. There’s so much pain and suffering bottled up inside the character of Terri that you’ll wonder why he doesn’t get angry out of frustration at any given moment. Everyone channels his/her frustrations in different ways, though. Terri should feel lucky that he met someone like Mr. Fitzgerald who’s honest, compassionate and smart despite that he shows those qualities in rather offbeat, somewhat over-the-top ways.
At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, Terri manages to be a refreshingly mature, perceptive and engrossing coming-of-age drama that boasts a well-nuanced, tender performance by newcomer Jacob Wysocki.