Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Josh Radnor is adept at creating flawed characters who nevertheless prove sweetly likeable. And even when, as with his first film Happythankyoumoreplease, things threaten to become too quirky for their own good, he is saved by his ability to deliver snappy one-liners with enough frequency to keep his audience onside.

Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old whose life, in time-honoured American indie fashion, is going nowhere. An invite from his old college professor (Richard Jenkins) to visit his alma mater, sees him cross the path of college student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who is 16 years his junior. Friendship blossoms and through the dual auspices of classic music and letter writing - remember those? - it seems there might be something more in the offing. But despite Zibby's willingness to overlook their age difference, Jesse isn't so sure.

Copy picture

Olsen seems somewhat old in her role of the ingenue and, in fact, it is the subplots involving Jenkins' Peter trying to grapple with his own age issues and some very smartly played comedy from Allison Janney's cougar of an English professor that hold the most merit. Zac Efron also shows up as weird but rather enjoyable tree-hugger Nat. While nothing of great consequence may be happening, ideas of nostalgia, ageing, snobbery and self-acceptannce are explored with a light touch.

Despite its flaws, this is still a sweet and gentle tale of friendship that shows Radnor has vastly improved his handling of multiple storylines. He still needs to know when to stop adding characters, a subplot here involving a depressive student (John Magaro) feels like an addition too far, but there's no doubt he knows how to create a warming hug of a film - and in a world where cinema is so often drenched with cynicism, there's a lot to be said for that.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2012
Share this with others on...
Liberal Arts packshot
When 30-something Jesse is invited back to his alma mater, he falls for a 19-year-old college student and is faced with the powerful attraction that springs up between them.
Amazon link

Director: Josh Radnor

Writer: Josh Radnor

Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron, Elizabeth Reaser, John Magaro

Year: 2012

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


Sundance 2012

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Stay Cool