‘Liberal Arts’ Movie Review – How I Met Your Girlfriend
There is no denying that Josh Radnor owes his stardom (if you can call it that) to the hit sit-com How I Met Your Mother. The CBS comedy is about to roll out its eighth season, and I’d agree the show is still just as funny. Radnor’s newest directorial effort Liberal Arts borrows part of the love concept, but makes it more dramatic than funny. Overall, the story is much smaller, but still succeeds to be well-written and a touch cute, even if, like How I Met Your Mother, Radnor’s character may be my least favorite part.
When 35-year-old Jesse (Radnor) goes back to his college alma mater to visit a retiring professor (Richard Jenkins), he stumbles upon a unique relationship with the much younger (19-year-old) Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). The free-spirited Zibby doesn’t let their age stand between the two, but Jesse hesitates to take the relationship further. On the one hand, he’s afraid of how it would look to others and the societal norms he’s surely breaking. However, on the other hand, he begins to care for this woman (or girl, depending on how you look at it).
The overarching conflict, though, is much more about his character development and how he is sputtering through life without a real mission.
In How I Met Your Mother, I think Radnor’s character Ted is funny, but a bit snobby, and easily the least likable one of the bunch. However, due to the show’s gimmick, I think Ted has to be this way. In other words, it’s nothing against Josh Radnor.
In Liberal Arts, Jesse comes off a lot the same. He’s sneakily funny, but overtly indecisive. Also, he’s annoyingly snobby…this time in a much more pretentious/hipster way. However, again this kind of plays to the strength of the movie because Zibby openly criticizes him for some of his “flaws.” In a particular scene that stuck out, there is an obvious riff on the Twilight books, where Zibby explains that she can still like it even if it’s not great literature, something Jesse is very condescending of.
Liberal Arts also plays to the ever-increasing situation which I like to call the “mid-midlife crisis” or the “post-graduation struggle.” Being too young to be considered a true midlife crisis, this phenomena plagues the graduates of this generation who find themselves doing stuff they don’t want to do…or simply unemployed. I know this generation because I am currently a part of it. The plot doesn’t shy away from telling us it’s difficult to grow up, with college being the unique time (and maybe the only true time) where you can be yourself.
As for the rest of the nuts and bolts of the movie, Radnor nicely acts and beautifully writes this movie. If the love part isn’t enough to engage you, the writing and chemistry probably will – Olsen is her always-magnificent self. It may not be the most powerful romantic-comedy, but at least it tries to be something different than the rest of the lot. It is kind of funny, though, that the film states life is improvised (there is no script), but presents it as a fictional work.
All things aside, Liberal Arts is about a slightly different character than Ted Mosby with a slightly-creepy relationship with a 19-year-old woman. If that sentence isn’t enough, the writing is far superior to lots of romantic-comedies. However, when I personally think about how I much I enjoyed the film, I still think the character is flawed in a way that makes me care slightly less…meaning I give them more props for the effort than the result.
Check out Liberal Arts this weekend as it opens in limited release.
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