Commentary: Waiting for Larry Crowne?

Jul 4, 2011 by

It seems that there are a lot of movies about education lately. I haven’t see ” Bad Teacher ” yet ( I hear it’s a bad movie ) but I have rented ” Waiting for Superman” ( and I am waiting for the energy to come to rend it asunder) but I did see ” Larry Crowne ” which is basically a Rodney Dangerfield ” Back to School ” movie brought up to current times.  Larry is a hard working individual employed by Stuff Mart U-Mart or some such variant thereof, but he is downsized, fired, let go, or whatever due to the fact that he doesn’t have a college degree . So, he gets a second chance to go through the registration process meeting up with a bow tied Dean and starts off to become educated. And, he approaches this task with all seriousness, signing up for Julia Roberts’ class and an economics class taught by an arrogant, martinet professor played by George Takei of Star Trek fame. The movie is absolutely hilarious and anyone who have ever sat in a large lecture hall with some three piece suited professor pushing his own ” Course Pack ” ( this happened to me when I took Western Civilization with Walter Rauch many years ago ) will relate.  Tom Hanks is, in a sense, the proverbial student that every college instructor ( and probably teacher wants). He attempts to get to class on time, is attentive, takes notes ( and highlights every single line of every single paragraph of every single page). And of course, Tom is the highly motivated student who is going to sling burgers and make French toast so as to pay for his college degree and make this all worthwhile. Larry Crowne ( or Tom Hanks ) is an observant fellow who glances around the classroom, noting his various colleagues , most of whom are at a loss to understand what they are doing in this class that is going to , as the Dean says ” change their lives “.

This is a ” read between the lines “movie that examines the entire issue of the college degree- the various students Larry ( or Lance as one of his classmates dubs him ) encounters indirectly or directly indicate why they are at college- one for sports, another simply because he hasn’t found himself, another to be part of a Vespa motorcycle gang ( how ludicrous can you get ). Of course, Tom and Julia Roberts get romantically involved ( but they do the right thing, and not sleep together- at least not on their first date or on the screen.

The audience was howling with laughter as they encountered the various students in Larry Crowne’s classes. One wonders how they made it to college, why they are in college, and at the end , what they are doing in a class studying Shakespeare with Julia Roberts.

Those prone to actual thinking will mull over the entire issue of education- what exactly one class in public speaking is going to do, how exactly one class in economics is going to help, and how the entire college experience is going to take a well rounded Tom Hanks and make him into a cultured, educated individual. The movie ends with no condemning criticism of education, but rather with Hanks and Julia Roberts riding off into the sunset on his newly acquired VESPA or motor scooter which he has procured from his neighbor Cedric the Entertainer. Can going back to college change your life? Will you meet a Julia Roberts lookalike in some speech class? I doubt it, but there are still some classes that I would like to take- some for the general interest, some for the fun of it…..maybe Geology or Mythology…maybe one can go back to school and take some classes that one didn’t take when an undergraduate. It might be fun. I give the movie a B+ for a pleasant afternoon, and a C- for not pushing the envelope and getting into a discussion as to why one should get a college degree. The students are there- but the thinking sadly, isn’t.

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