Liberal Arts is the second feature film from Josh Radnor, who is best known as Ted Mosby from the popular TV series How I Met Your Mother. As well as writing-directing, Radnor produces and stars in this charming and utterly relatable film about finding your path, and figuring out how to balance your passions with everyday life. Check the review out after the jump.
Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old New York-dwelling, university admissions officer who is truly passionate about books – he spends much of his life with his head in a book, and seems to be letting life outside of books just pass him by. Not long after breaking up with his girlfriend, Jesse receives a call from his former English Professor (who he was very close to) inviting him to go back to his university in Ohio to attend his retirement dinner.
He travels back to his alma mater where he meets Elizabeth, or Zibby as her friends all her (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old student at the university and the daughter of friends of his former professor. Jesse spends some time during his visit with Zibby, and despite their age difference, the two form a rather special bond. Will they be good friends, or could something more develop? Although they are 16 years apart, they are facing surprisingly similar issues. Both are trying to find their identities, with the 19-year-old Zibby wise beyond her years in some aspects, but incredibly naïve in others – while Jesse is trying to find a happy medium between his dreams and his reality.
If you’re between the ages of 20-40 and have an arts degree, then you’re likely to find something to relate to here. This film speaks to a generation of young people who were told that anything was possible, only to find out later that it wasn’t the case. Like many of us, Jesse has taken a job that wasn’t something he dreamed of – it pays the bills and allows him to indulge in passions. Although he knows there is probably more in life (and he could try harder), he chooses to live predominately in the world created in the books he so very much loves. It takes meeting a younger version of himself to inspire him to start thinking differently.
Although the idea of a friendship/relationship between these two people so far apart in age may seem a little hard to swallow, they actually have fantastic chemistry and share similar personality traits – this is a real credit to Radnor’s writing talent. There are a few scenes between the two which are outstanding – a discussion about reasons for loving/hating the Twilight book New Moon, and the power of music to shape your perceptions, are two which are not only amusing, but are conversations that I’ve had many times myself. It really hits the mark with both its comedy and commentary about appreciation of the arts.
The performances in this film are solid all around, with Olsen in particular showing her diverse range. In Martha Marcy May Marlene we go to see her dramatic talents, and here we learn she can really pull off the more comedic roles as well. Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney are both fantastic in their supporting roles – and surprisingly (for me at least) the performance I enjoyed the most was Zac Efron playing the resident campus hippy-stoner -he really had heaps of fun with his character.
I had a great time watching this film. Amongst the slower and darker tales in the film festival, this was one which was fun, light, and yet hit home in many ways. I’m not sure if the story will hit the mark for everyone, but there is no doubt that this is a very accomplished film. I can’t wait to see what Radnor works on next.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Josh Radnor
Writer(s): Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney
Runtime: 97 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: December 13 2012; USA: September 14 2012 (limited); New Zealand: No date set