Director: Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor; Elizabeth Olsen; Richard Jenkins; Zac Efron.
Plot: When 30-something Jesse returns to his alma mater for a professor’s retirement party, he falls for Zibby, a college student, and is faced with a powerful attraction that springs up between them.
How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor has followed his relatively successful independent movie Happythankyoumoreplease (2010) with his 2012 drama Liberal Arts, where he has once again took the reins as director, writer, and star.
Radnor plays the central protagonist alongside the Olsen twins’ younger sibling Elizabeth Olsen who excels in her role as eccentric and youthful Zibby, a 19 year old love interest to the 35 year old lead. What she brings to the table is a level of exuberance associated with the young, despite her character being old fashioned in her interests and almost desperately clawing to an older and more grown up way of life through Radnor’s character Jesse. This exuberance, eccentricity and youthfulness really helps to bring the Zibby character to life and helps us to understand her as a character rather than a caricature, and Radnor has to take some of the credit for that as he wrote the part. What he won’t be taking plaudits for is his own performance. He just wasn’t convincing. Sure, he was adequate as a line reader but the picture demanded more, and it’s his performance that let down the movie in my opinion. The script demanded range and almost unapologetically asked questions of his character’s personality, yet Radnor couldn’t answer them on screen, which was a shame given how decent this drama otherwise was.
In my opinion, Liberal Arts received as many complimentary reviews as it did because it is a slow and quiet drama of the type that seems to perk up the critics among us through its cross referencing to classical literature, poetry, and so on. Some could argue that it’s pretentious, I don’t think that it is. What I think, is that Liberal Arts is an ‘okay movie’ that clearly attempts to adopt Woody Allen tropes and is ultimately let down by a performance more than the script. While Radnor isn’t terrible, nor the script magnificent, it is clear to see the disparity between what the story wants to ask of us, and what Radnor is capable of drawing from us, and while he may be likable he certainly seemed to have his head elsewhere.
In conclusion, Liberal Arts is mediocre at best. If you’re looking for a slow moving drama about the troubles of the middle-class white man [snore], then look no further. If you’re trying to broaden your mind, entertain yourself or friends, or simply pass the time, I’d recommend that you check out our reviews page for a host of better options.