You Got Wheels
Viewed on June 11. Review embargoed until today:
It isn't everyday that Tom Hanks goes behind the camera to climb onto the director's chair (this marks his second feature film as director), and it certainly is a blue moon that he dropped by Singapore to promote his film Larry Crowne which made its Asia Pacific Premiere (why this isn't its World Premiere beats me) as the Closing Film of ScreenSingapore. For what was a bad Opening Film the film event made up for it with this A-lister's film at the other bookend, telling a tale that will strike a raw nerve with audiences here given the trials and tribulations of Tom Hanks' titular character who had to be unceremoniously retrenched despite his loyalty and performance on the job. It isn't sufficient to be loyal and hardworking these days, but one has got to be cheaper, faster and better as quipped by one of the fat cat bureaucrats here.
To make things worse, the bank always come knocking at the wrong time to compound the challenges at hand, where you probably heard a horror story or two about the treatment by banking executives on those who truly need their help, only to be stonewalled and reminded that banks exist not to help the little people who are their customers, but ultimately to serve their own self interest since they are absolutely, and fundamentally, profit driven entities. With the lack of education leading to limited prospects at work given the existence of glass ceilings, issues with mortgages and the hurtful puncture of self esteem when being given the pink slip, these are issues that the average Joe in any cinema hall can identify with, and probably bond with the Crowne character.
One can trust Tom Hanks to step into this role convincingly since he's has the everyday Joe demeanour to pull it off, although one cannot deny his star power in real life as seen when he stepped into a crowded room of journalists who let out a collective, audible sigh the minute he walked into the room. Usually playing evergreen, feel good, positive characters, it is no different here as Larry Crowne, a man who had to pull up his socks and dig in, making sense of the new world in front of him while maintaining a sense of dignity and respect. If anything this film will serve as a reminder to those on the same boat that all is not lost as long as one keeps a sense of hope that there will be an eventual light at the end of the tunnel. A sense of humour may help, and making friends is probably a must to keep one occupied with new companionship, hobbies maybe, but definitely perspective.
If there's a positive message coming out of this film, one of them would be never to give up, that all it takes is a positive attitude toward change, and becoming that agent of change to seize new opportunities that would come one's way, given that these are usually not obviously seen since one is normally deeply entrenched into a routine, which we see in Crowne during the first act. Help comes in the form, lucky for him, when he decided to better himself in getting a degree at a community college, and meeting two ladies who would change his life forever, one being fellow student Chandra (Enuka Okuma) who literally turns his life topsy turvy but for the better as the literal positive influence, save for an envious boyfriend, and the other being his public speaking class teacher Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), who provides that slight romantic angle, and having an entire running subplot of her own regarding her indifferent attitude toward life and her estranged marriage to her porn-surfing writer husband.
Sharing co-writer credit, I have enjoyed the works of Nia Vardalos of late, and one can tell the little touches that usually go into a typical Vardalos written flick that can be found here. I am wondering though if Julia Roberts had decided to pass on the role, that Vardalos herself could have stepped into her character's shoes most effortlessly, since the female point of view that can be seen in many of the female characters played by Vardalos were evidently found in Robert's Mercedes.
While both Hanks and Roberts had worked together before in Charlie Wilson's War and share some chemistry together once again in the same frame, don't expect too much fireworks in their combined screen presence given that they do spend more time apart, which is a pity since there is a minor ensemble involved in the film. Comedy comes courtesy of little quirky moments designed - I would really like George Takei to teach me economics, and be in a class that is a shadow of the British sitcom Mind Your Language with its class composition set up for deliberate mirth, which served as a pleasant distraction given the student antics.
Be the change you want to be, and that milestone can begin with even the simplest of steps such as a wardrobe change. Larry Crowne is basically that filmic self-help reminder as a model for those at the crossroads of their lives, and provides that extra cheer and support on the positives of building both knowledge and confidence. Not everything this summer has to be loud and filled with explosions, as this film demonstrates that a more powerful tale comes from something simpler, but possessing enough to connect with audiences at a much deeper level. There will be some who will dismiss this as being light and superficial even, but don't let them detract you from the second feature as directed by Tom Hanks, at least you'll know you're in for a treat.