Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes, PG-13
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron
Written & Directed by Josh Radnor (Happythankyoumoreplease)
It sucks growing up, and nothing feels more like a kick to the proverbial groin than returning to your alma mater years after graduation.
Such is the base plot of Liberal Arts, a new film starring, written and directed by Josh Radnor, Ted Mosby on TV’s How I Met Your Mother. Having become great friends with an old professor (Richard Jenkins), Jesse returns to campus to attend said professor’s retirement party. While there he meets and falls for Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a college student who is several years his younger.
Where else to go to learn than college, right? As most of us know, the life experiences one learns in college is usually far more valuable than book-smarts. Zibby and Jesse have a lot to learn from each other.
Liberal Arts does have some bright spots so let’s start there first. It is effective in how it approaches each character, all at different stages in their lives. You have Zibby, the hopeful student aching for adulthood and then there’s Jesse, clinging to his youth. Richard Jenkins character is also facing a different sort of crossroad, as he approaches the end of his career that had defined him. Zac Efron appears as a drifter (re: pothead) who seems to be invoked with much wisdom, a clear sign of what it really looks like when someone doesn’t move on beyond college. Much of this is done delicately and Radnor maintains an effectively light tone throughout the movie.
Where it fails is in its dialogue and ideas. It is the sort of film where you can hear the screenwriter’s views coming out of the mouths of each character. Radnor has something to say about aging and about college and about life, but the preachy way in which each character talks makes them translucent. We grow weary of this quite quickly, and the lack of chemistry between any of the characters prevents us from sticking with it on the surface, or on a cerebral level.
While Liberal Arts isn’t a bad movie, if it was a class I would skip it.
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