Larry Crowne: French Toast

Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Tom Hanks
Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts
(PG-13, 98 min.)

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." Jimmy Dean

It’s disheartening. Not this rather sweet and traditional Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts romantic comedy, but the negative reaction of the critics – and yes, even some of the movie going public.

This summer marks a turning point of sorts in that genre, with the more successful chick flicks morphing into frat style Animal House wannabes. For proof, let’s take a look at what comedy has caught the critics’ eye this summer. That would be Bridesmaids, produced by Judd Apatow, who also brought us Knocked Up. It gets a 90% positive rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and has earned some 153 mil at the box office. It is “the comedy to beat this year,” “stiletto-sharp,” with “real depth to the characterization and friendship.” I guess girls behaving badly, maybe even outdoing their male counterparts, is the new cool.

We saw that in No strings Attached, where Natalie Portman lost me in the preview when she belted out, “Why can’t be just have sex?” to a chagrinned Aston Kutcher, a story line that looks to be replayed in the upcoming Friends with Benefits, another gem I plan to overlook. 

From what I hear, since I am an independent critic and can choose to forgo these doozies, all these raunch-a-ramas have the saving grace of the leads ultimately doing the right thing, but not until we have to wade through depths of mindless coarse prattle that masquerades for wit these days. It’s like the PTA approving a strip tease in the school cafeteria because the money raised will go for college scholarships. 

Here, on the other hand, are the critics snarling about Larry Crowne, which earned a measly 35% Rotten Tomato rating, and so far, only 13.1 million at the box office. It’s a “congealed mess” that “skitters between pathos and shtick,” a “cup of milky tea,” and “a crashing bore.” 

Don’t listen to them, even as they wail in unison. Co-written by Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this film shows how one man navigates through the very same rough economic waters that are affecting us all. He can’t change the wind, but he can adjust his sails.

In the calm waters of the opening, we see why Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is consistently Employee of the Week at the local UMart. He stops to pick up litter in the parking lot, straightens the garment rack with loving care, and reminds his fellow workers to make sure everything is ship shape before they clock out. The he goes into the employee lounge for what he expects is another service award and comes out without a job.

And the way they break the news to him adds insult to injury -- something about his lack of a college degree being a hindrance to his future promotions. Almost like they are doing the poor schlemiel a favor by booting him.

Then he is hit with the consequences of his “upside down” mortgage (the regrettable but all too common situation of owing more on your home than it is worth), dealing with a syrupy sweet loan office who offers complimentary coffee but no cash, and the heart-stopping roulette wheel at the gasoline pump for a fill up for his SUV.

When he trades in those wheels for a motor scooter and enrolls in a community college, Larry’s life begins to change. In the scooter parking area he meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who persuades him to join the Scooter Club and revs into high gear the self-reinvention Larry has started so hesitantly. Before he knows it, he is sporting a new haircut, a more hip wardrobe, and a Feng Shui abode.

Then he really separates himself from the herd. Larry actually listens to the economics lectures of Dr. Matsutani – the original Star Trek’s George Takei bringing the same hammy humor to the college classroom that he brings to his Sharp Quattron television ad.

But the real force that changes his life is his Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), the teacher for his public speaking class. While Larry is into reinvention, she is well on her way to self-destruction, numbing the pain of a porn addicted spouse with frozen smoothies owing their therapeutic properties to fruit juices – the highly fermented kind.

As reluctant as she is about her 8 AM class, she is a natural born teacher, and the cynical mask she wears to class does not hold once she gets into the business of actually teaching. It is here in the classroom that the film and everyone in the cast lights up. Ms. Tainot is almost like a racehorse trainer, fattening up her young colts with a basketful of improv situations as though it is a bucket of oats. Instead of a stopwatch, she has a bell, timing the herd as they throw themselves over the hurtles while they talk about a subject they have just picked at random. Their early awkward attempts are mirrored in Larry’s pedestrian instructions on how to make French toast, where he shuffles his notes like an inexperienced Las Vegas card dealer as he addresses the podium in a monotone. 

By the time he has finished the course, Larry's final speech on geography is a personal history that recaps his life and sets him on a new course.

It is a journey worth the trip. Come along too.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

From his first stammering speech about how to make French toast, to his more intimate demonstration at the end of his public speaking course, Larry Crowne stands for a lot of us out there in these tough times. As Tom Hanks has been throughout his career, he is an everyman model for all of us.

He doesn’t let his disappointments turn him bitter. He is open to new friends and new ideas. He even puts the economic principles of his coursework into action, much to the chagrin of his banker. And he remains a gentleman even under some tempting circumstances. 

We should all try to follow that example, challenging as it may be. Here is something not quite as challenging. All it is requires is some bread, eggs, and a few other odds and ends. Larry Crowne’s recipe for French Toast is just the way to start your day.

French Toast

"There are many, fancy variations on this basic recipe. This recipe works with many types of bread - white, whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin, Italian or French. Serve hot with butter or margarine and maple syrup." Jan Bittner

Ingredients 

  • 6 thick slices bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • salt to taste

Directions

  1. Beat together egg, milk, salt, desired spices and vanilla.
  2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle of skillet over medium-high flame.
  3. Dunk each slice of bread in egg mixture, soaking both sides. Place in pan, and cook on both sides until golden. Serve hot.

Recipe Source: allrecipes.com