Review: LIBERAL ARTS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

As per my review for Hello, I Must Be Going, I indicated that I recently watched two well done similar movies about thirty-somethings struggling with their paths in life.  Liberal Arts is that other film which tackles these life problems from a male perspective. Josh Radnor, from TV’s How I Met Your Mother, writes, directs and stars in this equally wonderful film about people having difficulty with their life decisions and in facing uncertain futures.

Radnor portrays Jesse Fisher, a college recruiter, doesn’t find much joy in his post-collegiate job.  When his old professor and friend Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins) invites him to attend his retirement celebration at his alma mater, Jesse joyfully reminisces and romanticizes his old days in college as soon as he sets foot on the campus.  He also meets college freshman Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a bright and intelligent young woman with whom a mutual attraction occurs.  As a romantic relationship develops, Jesse is faced with the dilemma of whether or not he should follow through with this romance because of their age difference.

I have to say I was majorly impressed with Radnor’s script and direction here.  Much like I feel about Zak Braff’s work on Garden State, this television actor proves that he has so much more to offer besides TV sitcom acting.  The writing here is joyously romantic, yet doesn’t shy away from the slap in the face reality often gives people in these scenarios.  Radnor succeeds in taking his audience on this journey to romantic fantasy and brings them back to the biting and stinging of reality, but does so with love and care. Perhaps, he does so with too much care as the story wraps up a tad too perfectly, Still, for a second time feature filmmaker, Radnor does exceptionally better than others.

His likable, nice guy charm is on perfect display as Jesse.  Elizabeth Olsen, who I last saw in the dark and disturbing Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, shows that she can handle more light hearted material as the charming and irresistible Zibby.  Richard Jenkins, another one of those actors who is excellent in any movie role, is wonderful as the retiring mentor and professor who also doesn’t know how to handle the life changes he faces.  A surprising addition to the cast, and a welcome one for sure, is Zac Effron who plays the hilarious stoner/guru Nat who befriends Jesse.  Another standout turn comes from John Magaro who portrays Dean, a highly intelligent, yet emotionally disturbed student Jesse meets during his visit.

As I recommended with Hello, I Must Be Going, I must highly encourage people to go see this movie.  Here is another indie film which probably won’t get the attention it deserves.  In fact it is also playing at the Violet Crown Cinema. I suggest taking in a double feature with Hello, I Must Be Going if at all possible.

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