Larry Crowne: Tom Hanks Personal Film

Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts co-star in “Larry Crowne,” a romantic comedy about how today’s recession inspires an ordinary American everyday guy to undergo a personal reinvention and find an unexpected second act in his life.

Until he was downsized, the affable Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) was a superstar team leader at the big-box company, where he had worked since his time in the navy.  However, underwater on his mortgage and unclear on what to do with his suddenly free days, Larry heeds the advice of his good friends and neighbors—Lamar (Cedric the Entertainer) and B’Ella (Taraji P. Henson)—and heads to his local college to start over.

At East Valley Community College, Larry becomes part of a colorful group of fellow scooter-riding students, including the charming Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her boyfriend, Dell (Wilmer Valderrama)—all trying to find a better future.

To his surprise, Larry develops a crush on his public-speaking teacher, Mercedes Taino (Julia Roberts), who has lost as much passion for teaching as she has for her deadbeat husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston). Mercedes can’t deny the changes in Larry are inspiring, nor can she deny her budding attraction to this middle-aged student, who is undergoing a fascinating transformation. The simple guy, who has every reason to think his life has stalled, will come to learn an unexpected lesson: When you think everything worth having has passed you by, you just might discover your reason to live.

Hanks directs “Larry Crowne” from a script he wrote with Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and produces the romantic comedy with his longtime partner at Playtone, Gary Goetzman (“Mamma Mia!,” “Where the Wild Things Are”).

Personal Film

This is a personal movie for Tm Hanks.  The story of “Larry Crown” was years in the making. Just after high school, Hanks attended junior college, and his experiences there had a huge impact. He notes: “This was in the mid-1970s, and there was a sensibility of flux. In my class, there was somebody who was middle-aged, somebody in his fifties, somebody who was just back from Vietnam. I became friends with almost everybody in class, and I found this rich life experience amongst them.” 

Along with Playtone partner and producer Gary Goetzman, Hanks spent the past decade producing such hit films as The Polar Express, Charlie Wilson’s War, Mamma Mia! and Where the Wild Things Are; the Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries Lamar, The Pacific, Band of Brothers and John Adams; and the critically acclaimed HBO television series Big Love.

Simultaneously, Hanks took on acting roles in such blockbuster films as The Da Vinci Code, Angels &Demons, Catch Me If You Can and Toy Story 3. Throughout this time, Hanks continued to take notes and build scenes as he reflected upon the idea of what would happen to a man who starts over at the point in his life in which many would find it unthinkable.

Says Hanks: “Out of my experience in junior college came this character of Larry Crowne. He has his life completely altered by the fact that he gets fired. They let him go under the pretense that he couldn’t advance because he didn’t go to college. So what does Larry do? Much like when I was out of high school, thank goodness, there’s a place called junior college, where nothing is expected of you except what you put into the day when you drive to campus.”

In 2006, Hanks further developed the concept with screenwriter Nia Vardalos, with whom he had  collaborated as a producer on the blockbuster breakout film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” He says, “I wanted to work with Nia because I needed her expertise. There are characters in this film that needed to have complete voices and complete arcs; they had to be authentic. She worked on “Larry Crownefor many drafts, and then I took it and began to edit. The give and take with Nia continued right up until the end.”

In their screenplay, the writers explored the emotional toll of unemployment on a middle-aged navy vet who, until now, had been a standout worker at U-Mart. His frustration is matched by the financial toll of divorce, a whopping mortgage and a gas-guzzling SUV.

In an attempt to widen his job prospects, Larry enrolls in East Valley Community College (EVCC) to secure a degree and make himself more marketable. Little does he realize that this one small step will alter the course of his life.

Blue-Collar Guy

The idea of a blue-collar guy who loses his job and has to reinvent himself was one that came to Hanks years before the recent fiscal crisis hit the U.S. economy. In the midst of co-writing the screenplay and witnessing the after-effects that have left millions of Americans in financial turmoil and with uncertain futures, Hanks could not help but be influenced and incorporate these elements into the material.

Vardalos appreciated that the story Hanks had constructed was not so far-fetched. She notes: “What I like about this story is that it’s very real. It is for every man, every woman out there who has felt: ‘I’m working really hard, and I don’t know if I’m appreciated or part of an  infrastructure that will make America a better place.’ All of us are replaceable, and that’s a harsh reality. When that happens, you have to adapt. You have to reconstruct, pick up the pieces of your life and find a way to move on.”

It has been well over a decade since Hanks made his screenwriting/directorial debut with the 1996 comedy  ”That Thing You Do!,” but it has long been the plan for Hanks to direct this original screenplay.

Though he took a supporting role in his last directorial film, he always had an eye to portray the title character in this romantic comedy. Goetzman elaborates on the details of our protagonist’s life: “Larry is a regular, hard-working  guy who has always tried to do the right thing. But look what happens to him? He has a home that he’s underwater on, and the bank won’t give him any leeway on his payments, so he gives up his house to find a much simpler lifestyle.”

For Hanks’ longtime collaborator, production flowed in the efficient manner to which they had grown accustomed over their decades of work together. Says Goetzman: “As a filmmaker, Tom doesn’t procrastinate or over-think every decision. He’s very focused, and directing for him is a natural process. Even though he’s the director and stars in the film, he was able to divide his time between these roles efficiently and effectively.”