Transformers 3 came out this 4th of July weekend. Happy Birthday America, I hope you like crap! As much as an over-budget, explosive ridden, piece of fantastical nonsense makes me think of our current efforts in Iraq, I decide to see a film offering a bit more direct statement of the current situation in our country, Larry Crowne.
Larry Crowne has been dubbed a “recession comedy”, as if the recession isn’t’ funny enough on it’s own, and it’s the latest in a string of films dealing with the effects of the economic downturn in the United States. Other recent films I have seen on this subjects have included the amazing Up In The Air, and the somewhat disappointing The Company Men.
Many of these stories have a bit of a “the party’s over” tone to them, often showing well (sometimes overly) paid employees being given the axe. There is almost a sense of irony, or even justice to the people being fired. We then watch as the characters struggle to find that true happiness doesn’t come from cash. This idea makes for good screenplays, but the reality of losing your home, not having health insurance, and struggling to put food on the table for your family, is not quite as romantic as all that.
This is where I think Larry Crowne went right. Hanks plays a single guy who loses his retail job. He is not a six-figure breadwinner with a BMW and golf club membership. He’s a guy who did 20 years in the Navy as a cook, and left to work retail. In short, he’s already kind of broke, but a hard working blue collar guy with a stable life.
Don’t get me wrong, Crowne struggles through the film and learns that he has a knack for economics, and maybe is a bit cooler than he had thought, and we have a very heavy handed scene that gives us our “all we need are our friends” moment. But the film stays away from politics, almost cowardly so, and stays on course of simply being a film about a working guy trying to make it in a tough economy.
Living part-time in Las Vegas, I have had a front row seat for the economic meltdown. The record amount of foreclosures, and the insane amount of people laid off. Most of these people are not the higher income employees, but the blue collar workers at the casinos and retail stores. Obviously Las Vegas, despite what the Mayor’s office would like people to believe, is a one trick pony in revenue. And when tourism is your main source of income, you’re going to get burned in a bad economy when people stop traveling. I think it’s safe to say that when tightening the belt at home, the gambling budget is an easy line item to cross off.
It was good to see a film where the subject of strategic foreclosure is handled with dignity, and even some comedy in the fact you are pushing the bad debt back on to the banks. And is refreshing to see the idea that education is the key to better employment, and can also offer it’s own reward in personal growth, in a film.
We are not likely to see any Grapes of Wrath style films for our economic slump. It’s hard to imagine the Joad’s posting their sad state to Facebook on their iPhone, as the would in todays “depression”. So it’s good to see a film that speaks directly to the true issues of our time, and doing so in a way that promotes the inspirational message that education and hard work still are the keys to success in this country. Because even in today’s economic climate, I still believe that. Maybe now more than ever.