His girlfriend just broke up with him. His job is repetitive. Some guy just stole his laundry. Jesse (Josh Radnor) doesn’t hate his life in NYC, but when he gets invited to visit the picturesque Midwestern liberal arts college from which he graduated, he jumps at the chance to get away from it all.
The occasion is a retirement dinner for Jesse’s beloved former professor Peter (Richard Jenkins). From the moment Jesse arrives on campus, he is elated by the atmosphere, which stirs up his idealized memories of the great old days. He feels renewed. The reunion with the professor goes well. And Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a theater student filled with spirit and wonder. She touches something within him.
Liberal Arts star Josh Radnor, one of the leads in the annoying sitcom How I Met Your Mother, also wrote and directed the film, his second feature. The movie is agreeable and forgettable. Such words are usually dismissive, but that’s not my intent.
Liberal Arts is meant to be a bright comedy with wistful moments. Radnor nails that, though he succumbs to cutesiness on occasion. Some of the supporting characters and situations seem contrived, but that’s incidental, because the main draw of the production is college life, specifically the combined memories of the best moments of the college you left behind.
I liked spending an hour and a half at this small liberal arts college in the Midwest. I appreciated the look of the place, the social interactions and the characters. Jesse isn’t charismatic like most male lead characters in movies of this ilk, which was fine by me. His ordinariness is refreshing. Zibby is charismatic, but not excessively so. The conversations between the two drift into dopiness at times, which make them seem more relatable.
Richard Jenkins is always good, and it’s enjoyable watching him as the professor who realizes that retirement may not have been what he wanted after all. Allison Janney gets a big juicy scene as a caustic professor whose classes made a huge positive impact on Jesse’s life. Two supporting characters of note are Dean (John Magaro), a gifted student suffering from mental illness, and Nat (Zac Efron), a colorful fellow who pops up to deliver quips and wisdom to Jesse.
I didn’t like Nat at first, but he grew on me that same way he grows on Jesse. The two have a wonderful exchange late in the film — Nat abruptly walks up to Jesse, musses his hair or something, mimes slicing Jesse open, then thumps open-palmed on Jesse’s chest like a shaman playing a drum. The sweet oddness of his actions and Jesse’s reactions to them are a treat.
Liberal Arts is talky and deals in obvious truths about the aging process and the problems that come when you try to recapture your past. I had to watch it a second time before writing this because I couldn’t remember much of it. But what’s key is that I wanted to watch it a second time. Spending time at this college, with these people, for 90 odd minutes is a pleasure. A modest pleasure. Downright agreeable, in fact, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
V/H/S, 3 stars
Another “found footage” horror film, with lots of blood and a number of good scares. A group of petty thieves is hired to retrieve a video from a big old house. Things get complicated during the job, allowing them and us to view several scary videos, each shot by a different director. Nice gimmick, and it works fairly well. What do we learn? Men are pigs or idiotic pigs and women are victims or predators. The film is booked as a midnight movie Friday and Saturday at Landmark Keystone Art Cinema. It should play well in the late night setting. 115 minutes.
[A+E] Film + TV
[A+E] Film + TV, Beer + Wine
[A+E] Film + TV
[A+E] Film + TV
[A+E] Classical Music, Film + TV