By Dan Akira Nishimura
Summer blockbusters, with amped-up sound and special effects, can be entertaining, but there’s little to relate to on a personal level. When the smoke clears, enter “Larry Crowne.” Directed by Tom Hanks from a screenplay by Hanks and Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), the world of “Larry Crowne” is familiar and multiethnic.
When department manager Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) is downsized from a big-box retailer, he enrolls at community college. To keep himself afloat, he starts selling stuff on consignment at the yard sale of his African American neighbors Lamar and B’Ella (Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson).
He dumps his gas-guzzling SUV and buys a moped. He’s recruited into the scooter “gang” of fellow student Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) that’s led by her Latino boyfriend, Dell Gordo (Wilmer Valderrama). Larry is accepted even though he’s an old (“born in the ’50s”) white guy.
Larry stumbles into the first class of speech professor Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). Another of his professors is Dr. Matsutani (George Takei). Twenty-something free spirit Talia attempts a hip makeover on the hopelessly square Larry and a feng shui transformation of his cluttered suburban house. Larry and Talia are simpatico, but the Hanks/Roberts match-up is inevitable
Larry and I have a lot in common with some differences. First off, I’m not a white guy. I’m Japanese American, the nephew of “Senior Moments” columnist Phil Shigekuni and his wife Marion. I don’t wear striped polo shirts tucked into Dockers like Larry does, but we’re about the same age and I began attending San Francisco State University in 2009 when my department at a media company was outsourced overseas.
I may never be able to text with the speed of the millennial generation but can otherwise relate to my much younger peers. And though the scenes of Larry cruising through the city streets are romantic and appealing, I probably won’t be trading in my Camry for a scooter anytime soon.
When I was at James Monroe High, we went on field trip to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” George Takei was in the cast. His now trademark baritone naturally lent itself to Shakespeare. During the question-and-answer session, most of the discussion concerned the merits of the play and the intricacies of acting. A female student identified herself as a fan of “Star Trek” and said that she was starting a petition to get the show back on the air. Takei, who had played Sulu on the show, seemed startled but thanked her and advised her to write to the network.
This was years before “Star Trek” became a phenomenon and the girl, an early Trekkie, was laughed at as she made her way back to her seat. When a student in Crowne’s speech class, a young African American, gives his presentation on “Star Trek,” no one laughs and it’s accepted as worthy as Shakespeare.
Takei, of course, has become an icon and nearly steals “Larry Crowne.” As the professor of economics who hawks his own book, he plays with the Sulu image while satirizing “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” real-estate guru Robert Kiyosaki. Dr. Matsutani’s maniacal laugh as he threatens to fail lackluster students is hilarious.
Dan Akira Nishimura is an M.A. candidate in cinema studies at San Francisco State University and a regular contributor to the film journal Noir City. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.