His intellectual attraction to the alluring Zibby, as well as encounters with some colourful characters around campus - including his former English professor (Alison Janney) - develops a nostalgic attraction in Jesse who embraces the location and reminisces on his glory days. When he takes his leave, a clearly-interested Zibby requests he send her hand-written letters, and their ongoing correspondence prompts Jesse to return. A romance begins to blossom, but despite their substantial age-difference posing a problem, Jesse and Zibby ultimately learn some valuable life lessons.
Liberal Arts is a very pleasant film, but there are a couple of particularly brilliant moments; Jesse, via a narrated letter, shares his reactions to a mixed tape of classical music made for him by Zibby, with an accompanying montage depicting how the music made him feel, and an argument between Jesse and Zibby about the merits of reading Stephenie Meyer's New Moon. Anyone who loves music will relate to Jesse's feelings here.
The latter is particularly interesting because the arguments from both are acceptable, with Zibby admitting to finding New Moon enjoyable despite her awareness it is trashy, while Jesse openly declares it to be one of the worst novels he has ever read and dismisses all cultural significance. Jesse's snobbishness is certainly an unattractive feature to Zibby, especially when he claims that Chaucer is cultured reading, despite the fact it isn't supposed to be liked and enjoyed. Zibby wonders why someone would read something that isn't supposed to be enjoyed but purely read and praised by people convinced it creates an illusion of culturally acceptable taste. It is very interesting, and a philosophy that I will forever be considering.
There is just something about Radnor that I feel like I relate too. I like the guy purely through the friendly, easy-going, kind-hearted, sad and easily sympathetic characters he portrays. My friends used to call me Ted, because they thought Radnor's character in How I Met Your Mother and I were the exact same person. In Liberal Arts, I felt like I was watching myself in ten years time, but rather than have my nose in a book, I imagine I will still be somewhat film-obsessed.
Another of the film's charms are the supporting cameos, which are hilarious. Richard Jenkins is always wonderful, Alison Janney is fantastic as Jesse's icy former professor and Zac Effron pops up for a couple of scene-stealing moments. The star of this film, however, is Elizabeth Olsen, which admittedly was one of the main draw-cards for me. Following her outstanding debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, Ms. Olsen has also appeared in Silent House and is set to star in Rodrigo Cortes (Buried) new film, Red Lights.
The only issue I have with the film is that there is an air of self-indulgence here. Radnor, as much as I like him, flirts at times with somewhat self-appreciation. He returns to his former college, starts to relive the happiest period of his life, and an intellectual acquaintance-turned romance blossoms with a beautiful and highly intelligent younger student. It is a dream I imagine is shared by many disillusioned middle-aged white intellectuals and Radnor's clever and topical story features himself front-and-centre. Personally, this worked for me, but I understand many struggling to accept this decision. Also, despite the drama having emotional weight, it predictably ends in way hoping to leave an audience with a big smile on their face. With all of the heavy material I have been processing over the course of the festival, it was exactly what I needed. I look forward to seeing what Radnor comes up with next because, for me, Liberal Arts was fantastic.
My Rating: ★★★★