Larry Crowne, Scooterist

The motorscooter has appeared in countless films, whether as a star player or as a background prop, and many an internet thread or 2am campfire conversation has been dedicated to cataloging the history of scooters in movies. Only a handful of films, and even fewer major-release commercial ones, have given as much attention to our favorite mode of transportation as the new Tom Hanks film Larry Crowne. Seeing that the marketing team made an effort to target the movie to scooterists, through a marketing partnership with Genuine Scooters and outreach to scooter clubs and websites (including this one) around America, hopefully it’s worth reviewing Larry Crowne from the perspective of a longtime scooterist.

First off, let’s be clear that this is certainly not an art film, or in any way at all avant-garde. There are absolutely no surprises, It’s a mass-market popcorn movie (and dangerously close to a “chick-flick”) that seems designed to have the widest appeal possible. If it’s a “scooter movie” it’s also a community-college movie, a yard-sale movie, a cheesy romance, and lots more. Just about anyone of any age or background could watch this movie and identify with at least a couple of its characters and/or conceits, and be bored (or appalled) by others.

But if you’re a true scooterist, the call will be too strong, we must all see anything “scooter-related.” And on that count, it’s fair to argue that there’s more scooter footage in this movie than any other major film since Quadrophenia (though it’s still a distant second).

Tom Hanks is allegedly a big scooter fan, and his affection for scooters and what they represent (freedom, individuality, economy, friendship) really shows through in the film. The “scooter gang” that befriends Larry is silly in many ways, but oddly realistic in others. The diversity of scooters (vintage Vespas and Lambrettas, 80s relics, and a variety of modern Vespas, Genuines, and others) and the diversity of the “gang” is actually fairly accurate, and the group-riding scenes couldn’t capture the experience better (aside from the random breakdowns, which Hanks addressed after the fact). On the other hand, the occasional divide between modern and vintage scooterists have been stripped away. There’s not a skinhead to be seen, and ska and british invasion music have been replaced with unoffensive late-80s Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and various combinations of the two. (Though it should be noted that Jeff Lynne was friends with Marc Bolan, and a bit of a mod back in the day). Larry’s makeover to ‘fit in’ with the scooter gang is perhaps a bit mod (his scarf came straight from Paul Weller’s closet) but the rest of his gear looks more like a late-90s version of Ducky from Pretty In Pink.

Which is nice, actually. Trying to be entirely authentic would have been a mess, and the film is so all over the place with fashion and music that, like Hanks’ enjoyable That Thing You Do, there’s a bit of Frank Capra/John Hughes timelessness to it, especially with Hanks’ everyman proudly and bravely facing economic oblivion. Hanks says the movie “illustrates a fight against cynicism.” That wide appeal–and the theme in itself–gives it more staying power than your typical romantic comedy.

But if Hanks’ empathy and good-naturedness (and obvious love for the story and the subject matter) show through, they’re somewhat tempered, possibly by the influence of co-writer Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). For every genuine laugh or touching moment, there’s a cringe-worthy gag or awkward joke or rom-com cliche. After a goodnight kiss, teacher/love interest Julia Roberts (a cliche in herself) closes her front door, turns, drops against it, aaaand… thankfully an editor has the common sense to cut before the slow slide to the floor. The love story in general is pretty weak, with all the usual “what are the odds?” situations you’d expect.

But if you’re losing your personal “fight against cynicism” and can’t swallow the love story, there’s still a lot to like. The community college environment is well-done, with a truly entertaining performance from George Takei as a pretentious economics professor, and an assortment of student archetypes. Wilmer Valderrama’s tough “leader of the pack” comically and unpredictably swings back and forth between threateningly intense and huggably friendly. Cedric the Entertainer should play a wacky neighbor in every movie, ever. And if you’re a fan of edgier cinema, you’ll be excited to see Sy Richardson of Repo Man/Straight to Hell fame, if only briefly.

All in all, while there’s nothing hipster or counterculture about Larry Crowne, it’s one of very few films to dip a toe into the scooter ‘scene.’ For longtime ‘scene’ scooterists, it’s a great movie to watch with your mother, and it sort of starts to explain what you do every weekend (without getting into the related debauchery). For older or more recent converts to scootering, it provides a bit of validation, and a reminder of the camaraderie and (usual) inclusiveness of scootering.

Perhaps most importantly, Larry Crowne will hopefully provide the masses outside of the scooter demographic with a positive impression of semi-organized scootering. If you ride a scooter, some fraction of the blank stares you get will be replaced with “Oh, yeah, like in that Julia Roberts movie.” Perhaps those minivans in the suburbs will become a little kinder to two-wheelers.

The message of the film is that it’s never too late to start over and try new things. While there’s little chance this film will launch a scooter boom heretofore unseen on American soil, it’s likely it’ll inspire more than a few people to give scootering a try, and even though there are some folks who prefer scooters to remain underground, scootering in America could really use a bit of mainstream acceptance.

Our Larry Crowne Giveaway runs through Saturday July 2, 2011.

6 thoughts on “Larry Crowne, Scooterist”

  1. I enjoyed the movie, which is to say I don’t think it’s a GREAT film but it’s likable.

    I do think it’s an interesting portrayal of the current scooter community. Someone who saw it in our group thought Wilmer Valderrama’s character should have been more mod, but I strongly disagree. There’s much more diversity among even vintage riders. People can be into it without rocking the style. That’s always been the case, but hasn’t really been reflected in pop culture.

    What’s really surprising me is how many scooterists are having an opportunity to see preview screenings of the movie and how generally positive they’ve been towards it. I was expecting a huge “we’re not like that” backlash, but in general everyone seems to realize that this is as positive a depiction as we’ll get in a big Hollywood movie. There are clearly scenes that help to promote scootering, and they go a little deeper than “it’s just cool.”

  2. Forgot a couple less-important points.

    Crowne rides an 80s Yamaha Riva. Talia rides a late-90s Italjet Velocifero. Valderrama rides a vintage Vespa Rally.

    The topic of safety is addressed briefly but very commendably, Hanks is told he’ll need a motorcycle license to ride his Riva, all characters wear helmets and reasonably safe clothing, often including gloves. Aside from an obligatory early crash, Hanks (and/or his stuntman) rides deftly and politely, and notably, Hanks rides very slowly and carefully when carrying Roberts for the first time (and points out she must, by law, wear a helmet, in this case, Talia’s spare $400 Davida decorative pudding bowl)

    Bryan Cranston is a good actor stuck with a really thin and stereotypical rom-com “jerk-boyfriend” part. In this case, he’s a “jerk husband,” making his total irredeemability and quick elimination that much more unrealistic. The Jean Tisdales out there that go nuts for Julia Roberts must eat this up (“maybe someday I’ll leave my jerk husband/boyfriend and be making out with a nice guy a half hour later with no repercussions!”), because there’s one of these guys in every chick flick. Ugh.

    Marketing partner Genuine Scooters was thanked in the credits, for what that’s worth. A few Buddys and Stellas appear but don’t feature much in the story. Still, their involvement was probably a smart move in the long run. There’s probably some interesting backstory (maybe also involving VespaUSA?) that will eventually be told.

  3. Exactly, Eric. The “We’re not like that” argument is easily beaten down by the “we should be” counter-argument. While most of us embrace the mod/skinhead/soui thing and that’s just fine, I also think most of us are deeper than that and it would do all of us a lot of good to give up the uniforms and expectations and make scootering more diverse, at least part of the time. I love Guinness and soul night and Fred Perrys but it’s two thousand freaking eleven, let’s not do that EVERY time, OK?

    The real test is if we will hear ELO’s Hold on Tight at rallies now.

  4. I beg to differ, I think the real test is how many scooterists will be sporting Chinese tattoos that say ‘soy sauce’ : )


    What am I sayin’? I’ll have forgotten all about it by the time it gets to Redbox… in September.

  6. I’m thinking we’ll be more likely to hear Tom Petty’s Running Down a Dream at rallies, since that was the song that played during the group ride sequence. Which I loved, BTW.

    I also noticed the nods to safety and polite riding, and even if they were the result of urgings from nervous lawyers (think “NO PETS” labels), I was glad to see them. I hope the many folks who are likely to run out and buy a scooter after seeing this movie will remember these moments, and take them to heart.

    And I second your motion regarding the so-called “scooter lifestyle.” In the U.S., operating a 2-wheeled motor vehicle is so completely marginalized that those who don’t ride assume that a lifestyle (and a costume) is what it’s all about. OTOH, many people are pleasantly surprised at the social aspect of scooter riding; that Larry was so readily accepted by the scooter group is not at all far-fetched, as you point out.

    I can relate to the movie on other levels beyond scootering, and while I enjoyed it, had I not been given a stack of passes because I write a scooter blog, like Jeff I probably would’ve waited at least until the movie hit the local second-run house, if not Netflix or Redbox. But as people were saying as they left the theater, it’s a good date movie. Or popcorn movie. It does feel good…

Comments are closed.