Liberal Arts is the sort of breezy Sundance movie that warms you up right. While it isn’t a revelation in the Dramadey genre, it sure is a fine little entry. Josh Radnor stars in and directs the film. He also wrote it, and it is easy to see him reflected in the movie’s feel and plot. I must admit that I’m a fan of How I Met Your Mother so my bias towards liking Radnor’s work may be influencing this review. You’ve been warned!
Radnor plays Jesse, a college admissions counselor who works in New York. When he receives a call from his old college professor (Richard Jenkins) about speaking at his retirement party, Jesse can’t resist. He has a completely romanticized view of how college was for him. He travels back to Kenyon College in Ohio and can’t get over how much he misses the old place. Jesse is pretentious, much like Ted Mosby. He obsesses over obscure books and authors and can’t stop talking about his favorite stanzas or novels. He’s the guy that brings up Tolstoy in everyday conversation only to be met with rolling eyes.
He soon meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who gives him a quick and dirty lesson in pretentiousness and its downfalls. If you spend your whole life complaining about the state of things, how are you ever going to enjoy your life? That’s where the movie excels. It calls Jesse out on his pretentious nature and causes us all to think of the people we know who are just like him. Face it, we all know someone exactly like that. Someone who turns their nose up at popular novels because “everybody is reading them.” People that read Chaucer even though they don’t particularly enjoy doing so.
Getting old is also a main theme of the movie, each character in the movie is dealing with their age and the restrictions it brings. Jesse is held back because he’s unsure that he should be romantically involved with Zibby because she’s 19. Zibby still hasn’t learned what life is like outside of college, but insists she’s got it all figured out. Jesse’s professor is dealing with his own life crisis. Was he really ready to retire? Retiring officially makes you old, right?
The movie is funny, sort of sweet even. Zac Efron makes an appearance as a friendly hippie who helps Jesse see the errors of his ways. He’s quite funny.
I enjoyed Liberal Arts for what it was - "a road trip / finding out who you really are" type of movie. If you don’t like Radnor and his work then the movie could come off quite pretentious, but keep in mind that’s the point, that’s what he’s commenting on. We need to all try new thing, even if we’re sure we might not like them. Because, really, how much do we know anyway?