This is Josh Radnor‘s second time writing and directing a film after 2010’s Happythankyoumoreplease, which won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and was nominated the Grand Jury Prize. I thought the film was pretty good, and have been looking forward to this one for a while, especially since Elizabeth Olsen co-stars, who has come out of absolutely nowhere to start acting in some good stuff.
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.
Radnor seems to write very personal movies, like he’s trying to tell the story of himself, or a version of himself. The stories and characters he has created in Liberal Arts and Happythankyoumoreplease all seem like they are people out of his own past, which I’m sure is the case for many writers, but it seems more obvious here than usual. The character Dean, played by John Magaro, appears to be a portrayal of Radnor himself, maybe when he was a student at this college [Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school located in Gambier, Ohio] which is actually his real alma mater. Maybe this is his way of expressing his personal thoughts and opinions, and that’s really what art is about.
The question here is can an audience connect and understand and be entertained by something that is such a personal statement or venting. I can only speak for myself, but I definitely could. I feel like I have a lot of similarities or aspirations with the main character, who is probably a very good representation of Radnor himself. I really enjoyed all of the characters, especially Zac Efron‘s, a sort of hipster-druggie guy that knows the weirdest things, and Richard Jenkins playing a newly, regretfully retired professor at the college gives a really convincing performance full of a teacher’s wisdom and an old man’s regret. Really all of the actors in the film were really good, especially Olson, who I have not seen before in film. She has a lot more work coming soon, and has a couple of films from the past two years, and I think she is going to rise to fame and fortune really quickly. I hope Radnor does as well. His performance here and in his last film don’t really vary too much from his most well-known work in How I Met Your Mother, but his writing and directing have both proven to be pretty good.
I don’t know if I can recommend this to a regular audience, but I can say that I think a lot of people who share these liberal art interests will find this to be a good watch. I do think the scope is a little narrow and the writing a little too specifically made for Radnor.
3/4 – A smart, well acted film that faults in it’s very personal scope. If you have liberal arts interests or like Josh Radnor’s style, then you will enjoy yourself. I can’t confidently say the same for others, though.