One reason I might go to a movie is because it has  Tom Hanks in it. He is the Jimmy Stewart of out time. (and I really like Jimmy Stewart.)

He’s in a new movie with Julia Roberts called Larry Crowne.  It’s getting lukewarm reviews, but Tom co-wrote, co-stars and directed it, so I will go see it.

It also is about a student (Hanks) and a teacher (Roberts) at a community college. I teach at a community college, so I’m curious.

Most movies and TV shows about teaching make me cringe.  Whether the teacher is portrayed as a fool or a hero, it never seems like real teaching. It would be tough to get me to go see something like Bad Teacher, which is also out this weekend – and making more money and getting better reviews than Tom’s offering. I don’t need to see some teacher that fulfills all the worst things that some people believe about teachers and schools these days.

Community: The Complete Second SeasonI started watching the NBC sitcom Community with its first episode and, though the situations have never really touched on anything I have encountered at my own college,  I like the show. Yes, all the instructors are fools and the administration is even worse (that part is semi-accurate) but I never expect schools on big or little screens to look like what I’ve seen in schools as a student, teacher or administrator.

It’s interesting that the show and Larry Crowne share the plot of following an adult who is forced out of a job (because they had no college degree) and who turns to a community college.  That is actually a very real situation for many of our students.

Larry’s first teacher is played by Julia Roberts. Ms. Tainot (Get the pronunciation correct!) teaches Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks.  We definitely offer public speaking but I’ve never seen that particular flavor of it in a catalog. Larry connects – with his teacher and eventually with the course – and he gets to give his speech and even quote the wise words of George Bernard Shaw.

The movie is summer fluff so the issue of today’s hard economic realities which have triggered greater community college enrollments and even increased federal funding gets no real serious treatment.

I’m okay with that. The old movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn once said about an artsy film that he was shown, “If I want to send a message, I’ll use Western Union.” As reviewers have suggested, this is a film in the Frank Capra/Preston Sturges mold, so don’t expect much social commentary. Still, the class is a cross section of the varied community college population found in most urban schools.

Larry also takes an economics course. I hated economics as an undergrad and his overinflated professor, Dr. Matsutani (played by Star Trek‘s George Takei), is a poke at the teacher who probably thinks he should be at MIT rather than at a two-year college.

Stephen Holden, reviewing the film at,  said that it was “a rom-com fairy tale so tepid and well behaved that watching it feels like being stuck in traffic as giddy joy-riders in the opposite lane break the speed limit.”  Then again, he also says that it is ” a putatively adult Hollywood film featuring certified grown-ups… who more or less act their age. ”  That part sounds like a relief compared to much summer film fare.

Larry’s prof is unhappily married and an extracurricular relationship develops between the two of them.  I don’t like to root for extramarital affairs, but geez these two actors are so likeable…

I like watching a movie that deals with things that I know something about. I like films that are set in places I know. Sometimes that is combined with what is actually a good film. That was the case this year with the film Win Win which was about coaching wrestling, making some tough choices and it is set in northern New Jersey – all things I know something about. Plus, it was a good film with good actors (Paul Giametti, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan) and a  good director (Tom McCarthy).

We shouldn’t really lower our expectations for films during the summer. We shouldn’t lower our expectations for students in summer classes. But, I guess we do.