It’s strange to watch Liberal Arts, a film about returning to University life, when I am still only in the midst of my own degree, and yet I found the film very enjoyable, if a bit slow at times. Directed, written and starring Josh Radnor (of How I Met Your Mother fame), following the mixed success of his debut feature happythankyoumoreplease, Radnor stars as Jesse Fisher an admissions officer for a New York college who decides to return to his University in Ohio for his favourite lecturer’s retirement dinner. And after a chance encounter with college student Zibby (played by the rising star that is Elizabeth Olsen), a form of friendship begins to develop between the two.
Liberal Arts begins with Jesse interviewing new students to be inducted to the University. It’s a quick, fun scene that immediately draws you in, and then, without any build up, it moves on to a shot of his girlfriend breaking up with him. Suddenly the audience becomes ‘Team Jesse’. After just a short time following their first encounter, Jesse and Zibby then become closer and closer. Various letters are exchanged between the two, leading to several comical moments such as Jesse’s attempt to explain the greater meaning to his life through a mix CD. Meanwhile, Zibby, who seems eager to hold on to the mature man in Jesse, pines after him, whilst Jesse tries his best to create a wall. In the end this is not a romantic comedy set on a campus in Ohio, but a thought provoking picture about growing up and moving on from the past. Not much to resonate with a young student, and yet there is something to ponder here.
Although Liberal Arts is funny all the way through, the film is hindered by its slowness and a subject matter that whilst I understood, I struggled to reminisce with. The ending is too contrived and feels eager to tie up every loose end at any cost. Josh Radnor turns in a solid performance, playing his usual slightly arrogant, but nice guy character that you quite easily find yourself rooting for. However, the stand out cast member is Elizabeth Olsen, yet again displaying her brilliant acting skills that were on show in the hauntingly brilliant Martha Marcy May Marlene. While the subject matter here is less striking, she nonetheless still mesmerizes whenever she takes to the screen, and during one particular moment in the latter half of the film she shows a vulnerable side that is both sincere and emotive. Special mention should also go to the quirky cameo by a certain Zac Efron who plays a free spirit called ‘Nat’. It works well and is played sincerely by Zac, adding another entertaining element to the film.
All in all, Liberal Arts is an enjoyable film, but it does suffer from notable flaws due to its pacing.