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Cinema in Focus: Recession-Themed ‘Larry Crowne’ a Timely Story of Hope

A man who loses his lifelong job tries to reinvent himself by going back to school

3 Stars — Wholesome

One of the hardest parts of losing your job is the ensuing loss of identity. For men, especially, their image of themselves and their sense of self-worth are often tied to what they do for an occupation. Nothing can hit you harder than losing your job and then finding that you have lost your identity, too.

Larry Crowne is a comical yet poignant tale of a divorced man in his 40s who has to learn that his self-worth and identity come from something greater than the position he has held in a retail store.

Larry (Tom Hanks) joined the Navy right out of high school, and upon returning to civilian life, he went to work in a big-box store. Now, 20 years later, he is an eager and confident sales manager. He is a model salesperson in terms of his likability, friendliness and devotion to duty.

Like many people affected by the economy in the past few years, Larry is stunned to find that his job has been eliminated. Worse yet, he was the one to be released primarily because of the fact that among his peers he was the one who lacked a college education. Having recently gone through the trauma of a divorce, this loss hits him hard and, despite his eagerness to make a good impression in the job market, Larry is faced with the cold, hard reality that he will probably lose his home and have to move away from the only friends he has, who are his next-door neighbors.

Larry’s transformation begins and blossoms when he decides to return to the local community college. He is a perfect foil for a whole variety of misfits, nerds and wannabes who he meets along the way. Unlike many of his younger classmates, Larry has a good heart and treats everyone with respect. His life experience as a salesperson bodes well for him as he treats everyone he meets with an open curiosity and generous respect.

His first professor, though, is bored with her life and her marriage. Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) is the teacher of a class on “informal conversation.” The class introduces Larry to an eclectic world of student life, including a roving band of motor scooter riders of which Larry becomes a member. What Larry learns on the street is more impactful than what he learns in the classroom, and what his teacher learns from him will change her life.

Without giving away the plot, Larry, his classmates and his professor together explore what it means to understand your worth and find your identity. Larry also gives us a good example of what impact a man who is filled with integrity can have on others around him.

Larry’s situation is not unusual or particularly interesting, although it provides a great sense of comedy along the way. What makes his story have meaning and importance is the way he lives his life. He is not a saint, but his motives are pure. And while everyone around him may be jaded, his influence is powerful and potent. Ironically, he is the last to see it, which is what gives the story its sweetness.

Often we create identities for ourselves that are built on the pecking order of power, influence and respect in society. What Larry teaches his classmates is subtle and intangible: that being loving and compassionate to one another is one of the most powerful and attractive forces between us. What Larry could not achieve in the artificial world of retail sales, he finally achieves in the experiences of life on the street — and his new identity is worth the price.

Discussion:

» If you were to lose your job tomorrow, how would you define your identity? Would it change? Why or why not?

» Even if we have a job as meaningful as being a teacher, we could find it boring. Why do you think this is so? What is the solution to this?

» Although Larry was a likable person, he had few friends. Why do you think this is? What is your situation in life — do you have many or few friends? Why do you think that is?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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