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Hail Larry Crowne

I was on a plane flight recently, and watched a movie that I probably wouldn't otherwise have seen, "Larry Crowne". It stars Tom Hanks as a divorcee who loses his job and goes to community college to become more employable. Julia Roberts also stars as his speech teacher, and there's a sweet romance that develops between them. But there's a much more compelling story here, and it's the message of hope and optimism.

From the "biker gang" of moped enthusiasts, to the permanent neighborhood garage sale, to the diner where Larry gets a kitchen job to tide him over, the world of "Larry Crowne" is a friendly one, populated largely by people who want not only to succeed in their own lives, but to see others succeed in theirs. Even the quirkier, more questionable characters, like the narcissistic economics professor (portrayed with perfect timing and presence by George Takei) ultimately have something substantial to offer, and appreciate seeing Larry succeed.

There are certainly significant differences to my experience of the "real world". The biggest one is the presence of a catalyst in the form of fellow student Talia. Talia is a character who goes beyond our normally accepted social boundaries to change Larry's life, giving him new clothes, a new haircut, and bringing in a crew to clean his house, all for no reward other than seeing this one man come into his own. I've seen this device used in television and movies repeatedly over the years, and at times I've longed to have such a catalyst in my own life. Perhaps this is something I can aspire to, instead - to be a catalyst for others, not by arranging unexpected haircuts, or by trying to fix anyone; but by daring to be a little more forward, a little less reserved, with my appreciation and support for others. Feels risky, and the risk feels good.

The richest takeaway from this film, for me, and why I find it so significant politically, is that it creates a message of hope in difficult economic times. Through applying himself, through seeking out and diligently pursuing the three classes of speech, writing, and basic economics, Larry is able to turn his circumstances around. The choice he makes around his underwater mortgage is an empowered one, where he clearly understands the ramifications and is ready to stand firm in the face of pressure from others. Through both the classes and the style support he accepts from friends, he recreates his self-image and rebuilds his own confidence. Over the course of the movie, he transitions from one who suffers at the winds of fortune to one who is master of his own destiny. The love story with Julia Roberts' character is almost an afterthought, though it's also well executed and heartwarming.

This is an important message, and a great film. Thank you to the writers - Tom Hanks and Nia Vardalos.