Film: Liberal Arts

The cast/crew bit: written & directed by Josh Radnor, starring Josh Radnor & Elizabeth Olsen

The ten-word synopsis: 30-something goes back to University; falls for 19-year old.

There’s a central theme running through Liberal Arts of whether or not something is worth reading just because you like it. This stems from an argument between our two leads over whether Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) was justified in her reading of an unnamed vampire romantic fiction (Read: Twilight) just because she enjoyed it. While Josh Radnors’ character, Jesse, argues otherwise, (Prompting a wonderful line that all but instigates the grandest of debates: Twilight or Chaucer?) Liberal Arts is a fine example of Zibby’s point. If everybody enjoys the film just as much as I did, it’s certainly worth seeing.

Liberal Arts is certainly Radnors’ film, having written, directed and starred in it, and you can but praise the job he’s done in all regards. The script is sharp, believable and well-paced and the direction can’t really be criticised, with the entire cast giving great performances, himself included. Jesse is, as Zibby describes him early on “Likeable”. I certainly found myself comfortable in his company for an hour and a half, with Radnor the actor and his impressive beard doing everything expected of him. If you can create characters the audience are prepared to care for, then you’re much of the way to having a good movie on your hands, and Radnor the writer seems to do this with ease.

Elizabeth Olsen stands out as Jesse’s love interest, 16 years his junior. The age gap is a prominent theme throughout the film, although it’s always tackled in a sensitive, careful manner. There’s a terrific scene in which Jesse works out how old Zibby was or will be when he was or will be certain ages. (73 when he’s 89? Alright. 3 when he’s 19? Less so.) Despite this, you can absolutely understand why a man would fall in love so easily with Olsen. She’s a remarkably tactile actress for her age and experience, and should be ashamed to be associated with her older sisters, Mary-Kate and Ashley, the infamous ‘Oslen Twins’, to whom I had honestly not made the link until Wikipedia told me a few minutes ago. She’s got great comic timing and delivery, but is also more than capable of delivering on the emotional front when necessary. It’s almost surprising to learn that the role wasn’t written for her, such is the accuracy of the fit between actress and character, although, going on roles in earlier films from the year such as Red Lights and Martha Marcey May Marlene, dominating roles may just be a knack she has.

A word also has to go to Zac Effron. While he’s only in two or three scenes, he’s genuinely hilarious when he does pop up, and you’ll spend much of the film looking for him to appear again. What seems to be an archetypal irritating hippy character is transformed when, about two lines into his character, the entire audience stopped and simultaneously thought “Is that Zac Effron?”. He’s very, very funny, and having as big a name as him -the biggest name in the film- play that particular role worked better than you’d’ve ever thought. I’m not going to be backwards in admitting that I’m a big fan of Effron anyway, but he proves he has real comedic chops here to go with the dramatic and musical ones he’s already demonstrated in past.

Liberal Arts is an all-out charm offensive. It’s funny and it’s moving, even if it won’t ever make you cry. Radnor the actor, writer and director have all done a brilliant job, and everyone else behind the film similarly so. One character, at one stage, criticises the publics’ need to speak in “Wild hyperbole”, as reading every book ever would be “Logistically impossible” after Jesse declares something the best book ever written. I’m not going to claim that Liberal Arts is the best film ever made, and I don’t think anybody ever will, but to not give it the time of the day because it’s not ‘the best’ would be a massive injustice. This is neither Twilight or Chaucer. This is Liberal Arts, and I can guarantee that you will enjoy it.

7 Hand-written letters out of 10

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3 thoughts on “Film: Liberal Arts

    • Quite possibly, yeah. I spent the film trying to identify it, but couldn’t place my finger on it. I haven’t read Infinite Jest, but it seems to also have a light blue cover…

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