Yet the picture is being marketed entirely on the strength of its stars, with Universal stressing the “Tom” and “Julia” in
large letters above the much smaller “Hanks” and “Roberts” at the top of many print ads. The TV spots and trailers bank on
Hanks’ everyman appeal (“Can you get this hunk of junk working?” he says, ostensibly referring to an old scooter) and Roberts’
Forgoing men in tights, explosions, and gratuitous dirty jokes, it’s the rare big-studio summer movie meant for adults. And that’s
inherently a risky proposition. These days, “movies for adults are not as sexy for private investors and private investors fund a lot of
development and production,” Poland wrote in an email.
“[Studios] think in terms of home runs, not singles and doubles or even triples,” Fine says. “They want the big return right now.
They’re looking at the short term, not the long term. They recognize that [about] 50 or 75 percent of what a movie’s going to make it makes
in the first month.”
This is why Larry Crowne represents a gamble. “The adult audience is not driven by opening weekend the way younger audiences are,”
Poland says. “A movie for them needs to be supported longer and keep its theaters longer, even if the evidence that it's catching on is scant.
And maybe it's not really catching on.”
In that climate, any movie that’s not “pre-sold” represents a serious risk, Fine says. That’s why so many summer titles are derivative: Prequels, sequels, remakes and comic book adaptations all come
with built-in constituencies. "I wouldn't even pitch an original idea anymore," Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie ( The Usual Suspects, X-Men, The Tourist) told New York earlier this year. "What [studios] want is — through no fault
of their own — a piece of pre-existing material that's survived some sort of a litmus test, like a graphic novel.” A-list stars
aren’t immune: Hanks’s biggest hits of the past decade were The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, based on the
sensationally popular Dan Brown novels. Roberts’s most-notable success was the remake of Oceans 11 and the resulting sequels.
That all seemingly leaves out Larry Crowne, a small film with an original screenplay of modest ambitions, starring two aging stars whose
“glory days were 10 or 15 years ago,” as Fine puts it. The currently top-targeted audience was “barely born when ‘Forrest
Gump’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ came out,” he adds.
Still, the old-fashioned marketing campaign, if helped along by that dinosaur known as positive word of mouth, might just pay off. There are
plenty of viewers eager for a taste of what big studio movies used to be, starring actors they’ve loved. Witness this summer’s swelling
success for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, or the phenomenon that was My Big Fat Greek Wedding nearly a decade ago.
“It's an underserved audience,” Poland says. “When they get a whiff of something that doesn't suck, they really show up.”