Film Review: Liberal Arts (2012)

Liberal Arts is a 2012 film premiered in January on Sundance and later in September for limited release. It’s Josh Radnor’s second take on writing and directing (the first one being Happythankyoumoreplease). The story is about a a 35-year-old guy named Jesse and his developing relationship with a 19-year-old girl named Zibby. The cast consists of some familiar names: Josh Radnor (Jesse), Elizabeth Olsen (Zibby), Richard Jenkins (Prof. Peter Hoberg), Alison Janney (Prof. Judith Fairfield), and Zac Efron (Nat).
Playing Jesse, Josh Radnor is okay. I mean he’s good, but I still see some Ted (Radnor’s character on television series How I Met Your Mother) in Jesse. It’s like these two characters are tied together while of course I was expecting them to be different from each other. It’s not bad though, I was just expecting something else. Meanwhile to Josh Radnor the writer, I can only say “Nice work!”. I really enjoy the writing. Frankly, the dialog is what I love the most in this movie. Also there was not one moment of yawning, I enjoyed the whole thing from the start to the very end.
Elizabeth Olsen, playing Zibby, is a delightful on-screen persona. The character came across as very likable and fun. Olsen herself is someone whose career I would want to follow. She seems to have an eye on indie productions, which I commend. It’s also nice to see her be her own person, not in the shades of her sisters. Well she actually outshines her sisters in a matter of productivity. We all have seen her brilliant performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene which got rave reviews. It comes to one thing we can imply from her selection of films to star in: she actually reads her scripts and she has a good taste in them.
Meanwhile the charming Zac Efron steps out of his comfort zone, playing the not-so-charming guy in a red hat named Nat. Nobody really knows what Nat does, he just seems to always be in the right place and in the right time for the main character, Jesse. He’s like a fairy godfather, enlightening Jesse in his dark days and confusing times. A fairy godfather indeed, who’s trapped in the body of a hippie. Nat is a very lovable guy, the kind whom you’d hang out with everyday and would not get tired of. He is the free bird who spits out words of wisdom unconvincingly, because he sounds high.
Jesse and Zibby became pen pals, and I fall in love with their conversations on paper which are very dreamlike. What they have is what women want: romance. It’s what I want, but it’s not easy nowadays to find someone majoring in English who is willing to write me a letter full of wit when my replies would just be jumbled, cluttered words without any sense of harmony. I think Jesse proved himself as an English major, with a lot of insights about literature, life, and classical music. The film has influenced me in a way that I want to listen to Beethoven’s work as the soundtrack of my life so I would see things differently. But I haven’t tried it so I’ll get back to you when I have.
As of the love with such age difference, I’m all for it in this case. The two lovebirds just seem to click together. The chemistry is definitely there. I don’t see Jesse as a disgusting pedophile, I see him as a very interesting cute guy (who can be cuter if he rids of that scruff). I see them both as two very interesting people, very attracted to each other in a hauntingly romantic way.
My only note is just sometimes I’m not really sure what the center of the story is. One time it’s the relationship between Jesse and Zibby but some other time the focus pans somewhere else. And there’s also the extra story line, the relationship with the depressed genius named Eric. Honestly, I don’t know what it does to the story. It doesn’t add a new dimension in Jesse’s character or anything, it just adds more story line. And quite honestly, it’s somewhat not believable that Jesse can just go to Ohio whenever he likes. There must be something keeping him tied to his usual life: his work maybe. Also, outside of Ohio, we never really know the guy. We know that he works as an admissions officer but other than that we know nothing.
This movie is not full-on mind blowing, but it’s calming and fun. Somehow I just connect with the characters, I get their ideas on things, I understand their point-of-views. I do not have even a slightest bit of hate towards any character, even towards Zibby who loves Twilight. There is just something very pure in the writing about who the characters are and how they interact with each other in a very natural way. I rate this movie 4 out of 5 and I would really like to see future works of Josh Radnor in acting, writing, and directing.
Directed by Josh Radnor
Screenplay by Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser
Running time 97 minutes
Where to see them next…
Josh Radnor: More HIMYM (renewed for 9th season)
Elizabeth Olsen: Kill Your Darlings with Daniel Radcliffe and Very Good Girls with Dakota Fanning, both set for release in 2013

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