Movie Review: Liberal Arts

IMDB, Liberal Arts“Liberal Arts” on IMDB

Drama, 97 Minutes, 2012

This isn’t really a “comedy” (although it’s billed that way).  You really won’t laugh at it.  It’s a somewhat decent drama however.  A light, non-threatening, ultimately unimportant drama to be sure, but a decent one nonetheless.  It’s flawed and these flaws tend to undercut its message but I’m willing to admit that I may not be the target audience here.

35 year-old Jesse (Josh Radnor [IMDB]) is invited back to his Alma Mater to attend his favorite professor’s retirement party.  While there he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen [IMDB]) a 19 year-old freshmen who shares his interests, laughs at his jokes and happens to be really hot.  They spark a long-distance relationship via letter and he agonizes over their age difference as they grow closer.

The whole age-difference thing is really blown somewhat out of proportion.  Jesse has just met Zibby.  There’s no conflict arising from him knowing her as a child, no loyalty issues with family and no real obstacles to a non-traditional romance.  It’s still creepy (at least according to the Standard Creepiness Rule), but it’s not that far outside (although a little more so when you realize that Radnor’s actually playing younger than he really is).

The point is, that while it is an obstacle, it’s not the obstacle that the script needs it to be.  It’s just kind of there.  More damaging is the way the relationship grows.  We get several montages accompanied by voiceovers of the letters being written.  What letters they are!  Rarely will you ever find yourself wading through such abject pompousness!  The letter-reading sequences are dripping stains of pretentiousness that will strain your eyes from all the rolling.  They are incredibly distracting and create a tendency to genuinely dislike the characters.

This is what I meant before when I said that I may not be the right audience for this.  Having not gone to college, Liberal Arts or not, I found much of this to ring rather false but to be fair, how would I know?  Maybe everybody in Liberal Arts programs are actually this gut-wrenchingly pretentious?  Maybe I’m simply not able to enjoy this as much as somebody with a background more aligned with it?  In short I’m willing to accept my limitations as a factor here.

Even granting that, issues remain.  Movie issues.  There are subplots that get some time, attract our attention and then just fizzle out.  Several scenes just kind of… float.  Balancing that is a really likable cast of higher-quality television actors and an, eventually, clever story that may not play out as you expect.  This is apparently Radnor’s second writer/director/star movie.  While I wasn’t completely sold on this, it has peaked my interest for his other film and future efforts.

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