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Film Review: 'Liberal Arts'

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 5, 2012
Courtesy of BCDF Pictures.
Courtesy of BCDF Pictures.
  • Arts + Culture
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The new film, "Liberal Arts," cleverly suggests we're never too young, or too old, to learn a thing or two about ourselves. Josh Radnor writes, directs and stars in this perceptively entertaining story which concedes that all us are capable of stumbling into contentment.

Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old college admissions officer, living in New York City. Jesse jumps at the chance to return to his beloved Midwest alma mater when asked by his favorite college professor, Peter (Richard Jenkins), to attend his retirement party. While he is there, he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a plucky, wiser-than-her-19-years, student who stirs up fond memories of his past. Their common love of literary escapism and idealistic conversations provide a mutual attraction despite their age difference.

In addition to hooking up with Zibby, Jesse befriends two diametrically different dudes who have a profound effect on his psyche. Nat (Zac Efron), a new-age, high-on-life kook helps put things into perspective with breezy comments that hit home for Jesse. While Dean (John Magaro), a suicidal misfit, awakens Jesse's misconceptions about having been in college was the best time of his life.

Romanticizing about the future, as well as the past, link Radnor's characters to one another. They're also obsessive about age and the restrictions it imposes upon them. But soon they learn to ease their discomforts through interaction.

The radiant Zibby turns Jesse onto classical music and suddenly he finds while listening to Mozart (via headset) in the city, people become more attractive. In turn, he pretentiously sends her a copy of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" to replace Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight." In a funny scene, Jesse does the math on the age difference between the two of them. When he was19, she was 3, not good. But when he gets to age 87, she'll be 71, not bad.

Radnor ("happythankyoumoreplease") excels on all levels in "Liberal Arts." His writing is audaciously amusing and at the same time, extremely insightful. Richard Jenkins, the consummate actor, always gives his best even in horrible films (think "Hall Pass") gets some of the best lines in the film. One, in particular, rings so true ..."Nobody feels like an adult. It's the world's dirty secret." And pay attention to Allison Janney's vitriolic rant as an aging literature professor, it's utterly spot on.

"Liberal Arts" is a crowd pleaser (the audience actually clapped at the end) because we can identify with the characters, young and old. As Nat points out to Jesse, "Age is a stupid thing to obsess about." How true.


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