What do you get when you combine the economic recession and a middle-aged man?
The first word that usually comes to mind is "unemployment," but some might also think of Larry Crowne, the newest feel-good flick from My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos and box-office favorite Tom Hanks.
Larry Crowne tells the story of, well, Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man and star employee at a Target-esque superstore. As the result of company downsizing, Crowne is fired and left with his house, a gas-guzzling SUV and the prospect of working menial jobs to make a living. After consulting with his next-door-neighbor, a lottery winner turned garage sale salesman, Crowne decides to take the step he never took 30 years earlier -- to enroll in community college.
Although Crowne takes the typical freshman course load, ranging from Speech to Economics 101, he is anything but the typical freshman: He joins a motor scooter gang, has his tchotchkes feng-shuied by an attractive twenty-something free spirit -- and receives warnings from her dark, leather jacket-wearing boyfriend.
But you can't have a Tom Hanks movie without a little romance. After all, the standout element of Cast Away was Hanks' on-again, off-again relationship with Wilson the volleyball. In Larry Crowne, Hanks falls for his disenchanted Beginning Speech teacher, Ms. Tainot (not Tai-NOT), played by Julia Roberts. Their chemistry doesn't exactly sizzle, but as Crowne moves further down the road of self-discovery, his newfound joie de vivre provides the perfect antidote to Tainot's vulnerability.
All that self-discovery comes at a price, though, and like most college freshmen, Crowne needs a way to pay for his hefty tuition bills. He finds a job working as a cook in a friend's diner, churning out pancakes and omelettes at rapid-fire speed, all while managing to finish his homework.
To pay homage to Crowne's after-school job, Gut Check decided to sample the "One of a Kind" French toast at Sunrise Café (24 Four Seasons Shopping Center, Chesterfield; 314-576-2166). The café's kitschy ambiance seemed to ooze Larry Crowne, and the bizarre assortment of knickknacks for sale at the front of the restaurant rivals Crowne's neighbor's garage sale.
In keeping with the film's theme, the French toast was sweet, flaky on the outside, soft on the inside and satisfying. The challah bread was soaked in creamy, cinnamon-flecked custard, and a light dusting of powdered sugar and maple syrup capped off this delicious American favorite. Despite its rich consistency and generous helping, we found ourselves wanting to go back for more.
Larry Crowne might be a little too saccharine for some viewers, but like the French toast, it won't leave you with a frown. And look out for a cameo from Crowne's own French toast in the film. It proves that even in the middle of economic upheaval second chances -- or even second helpings -- are still possible.
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