Our Everyman at midlife

Hanks in Philadelphia to promote "Larry Crowne," also starring Julia Roberts. He'll turn 55 Saturday.
Hanks in Philadelphia to promote "Larry Crowne," also starring Julia Roberts. He'll turn 55 Saturday. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)

Tom Hanks is back in touch with the human condition in his "starting-over movie" "Larry Crowne."

Posted: July 03, 2011

Tom Hanks looks darn good for 55.

He also looks darn good for Tom Hanks. Slimmer than in recent years. Sunnier than Robert Langdon, the oddly coiffed symbologist/sleuth he played in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Sharper-dressed, too, in a midnight-blue blazer, black shirt, and Levi's.

And why not? In Larry Crowne, which opened Friday, Hanks plays the guy who first loses his job and then his house, enrolls in community college, gets a makeover from the second-cutest female on campus, and dates the cutest one, a speech teacher played by Julia Roberts.

Hanks, who will turn 55 on Saturday, cowrote Larry Crowne with his pal Nia Vardalos. You may have heard of the little film she wrote that Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, produced. It was called My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Larry Crowne is more My Small Slender Second Chance. With Crowne, Hanks directed and stars, his first time doing triple duty since That Thing You Do!, his 1996 directorial debut.

Despite the chunky class ring Hanks sports on his hand, he is like Larry Crowne in that he never earned a college diploma. That ring, Wilson's 50th-birthday present to him, is from the School of Hard Knocks. His ring says that he graduated "summa cum loudly." He is like Larry in other ways, too. At heart, Hanks' film is about a guy at midlife trying to make sense of a changing world.

At this point in Hanks' career, the American institution whose films have sold $4 billion in tickets, and made him one of the most successful screen actors of all time, wanted to make what he calls "a starting-over movie."

"So many movies are about studio commerce rather than the human condition. I wanted to make one that wasn't about whether the Priory of Sion has hidden something," Hanks says, gently mocking the Robert Langdon movies.

He and Vardalos started on the screenplay "about six years ago." The subsequent economic crisis made it inadvertently relevant. Larry is made up of elements of Hanks, who went to community college in the '70s, and also of his father, a restaurant cook "who wanted to be a man of ideas and words" but whose default job was to be a man of skillets and stockpots.

"I went to junior college with people twice my age," Hanks recalls of his time at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif. Here is where his familiar mock-sarcastic singsong turns earnest.

"It struck me that these people who had homes and husbands and wives and careers were just as nervous as we were." There were a "lot of guys just back from Vietnam, guys seeking the beginning of their next lives."

When he was at community college there was no speech teacher who looked like Julia Roberts' ladder-legged Mercedes. But there was a Mrs. Fitzgerald who taught a Shakespeare course - "one tragedy, one history, one comedy" - that was a life-changer.

"Had I not taken it, I never would understand Shakespeare," says the actor, who learned how to break down a character in Bard 101. "I still know things because of that class."

This is how he and Vardalos collaborated on the script: "She rode herd on the girl parts and I wrote the boy parts," he says, still cheerfully unrepentant for his notorious ad lib in Sleepless in Seattle that made fun of "chick movies" (i.e., An Affair to Remember) and "guy movies" (i.e., The Dirty Dozen).

"Is there such a thing as a chick movie?" he asks. "There is a marketing theory that says yes.

"But a good movie is a good movie and crosses all demographic lines."

He narrows merry blue eyes in a comic attempt to look threatening. "Now, if someone calls Larry Crowne a chick movie. . . . "

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/flickgrrl/.

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