As an early military retiree working for a Walmart knockoff (UMart), middle-aged company man Larry Crowne (co-writer and director Tom Hanks) loses the war against downsizing, but quickly strikes back with his late decision to attend community college for the degree he never pursued. His hard luck quickly changes, thanks to a positive attitude, which attracts all kinds of attention, most notably from a younger fellow student (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and one of his professors (Julia Roberts) caught in her own downward spiral and in need of a little sunshine in her own life.
Sunlight is a key here. The movie’s comedic outlook is sunny and warm, but not blindly so. Hanks as a director understands, thanks to a career that goes all the way back to his sitcom breakout Bosom Buddies, jokes and has the canny sense to not force them on the audience. In lesser hands, Crowne would be a doofus, but that’s not what Hanks is going for. He wants us to see and appreciate the transformation this guy undergoes, to see how dire his situation could have been and embrace, along with Crowne, the lucky turn, which in truth is more about being open rather than lucky.
The end result feels like an adult male fairy tale populated by hip scooter girls instead of fairy godmothers and wicked witches, and its calculatedly cynic-free nature appreciates the happiness without worrying about the ever after. Grade: B