Review: Liberal Arts

How I Met Your Mother’s leading star, Josh Radnor, has once again taken a leap into writing, directing, producing, and starring in his newly released film titled Liberal Arts.  The film is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in quite some time. Radnor does a profoundly beautiful job in capturing themes of love, aging, nostalgia and friendship.

Radnor plays Jesse, a thirty-five year old New York admissions counselor, who graduated from the liberal arts department at Kenyon College in Ohio. As Jesse decides to go back to his college to celebrate the retirement of one of his favorite professors, he by chance meets 19-year-old sophomore student, Zibby (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Olsen). Despite struggling to come to grips with the age gap between the two, Jesse begins to grow a fondness for Zibby, as he is irrefutably attracted to her wit and charm.

One of the most intensely romantic aspects of the film is immersed around the handwritten letters Jesse and Zibby send each other as Jesse returns back to New York. It is magical to see Jesse deeply moved by the classical music CD Zibby burned for him. As he walks around the city of New York playing the disc, everything and everyone around him become more alive and beautiful than ever before. It is certainly undeniable that Radnor and Olsen have great chemistry playing their characters to sheer and utter perfection.  It is incredibly heart-warming to see Zibby challenge the already analytically minded Jesse to the point where he even asks her, “Am I stunted or are you just advanced?”

In addition to the superb acting of Radnor and Olsen, I must not fail to mention the exceptional talent displayed by the supporting cast. Richard Jenkins, who plays Professor Hoberg, is a rollercoaster of a character transforming from comically flamboyant to hopelessly distraught as he regrets his decision of retirement. Once he is officially retired, he becomes lost and confused as he struggles to identify what he will do for the rest of his life. It was truly heart breaking to watch when he ultimately begs profusely for his job back, but fails to do so.

The antithesis of Jenkins, Allison Janney, plays Jesse’s favorite Romantics Literature professor. However, much to Jesse’s chagrin, she fails to remember him nor seems to care one bit for the impact Jesse claims to have acquired from her class. Janney does a great job portraying this haughty, hostile, and pessimistic professor. Specifically, one poignant moment I recall is a scene in which Janney’s character labels Jesse as a man with a “gooey heart,” to which Jesse retorts back that his gooey heart is partly to blame because of her supposedly impactful class. It seems that in that moment, despite her silence, her bitter expression softens.

After having the great pleasure of watching this film, Josh Radnor appeared before us to do a Q&A. Radnor mentioned that one of the things he wanted the audience to take away from the movie was the fact that we live in a relational society. In every relationship built within the movie, we see how each character’s role changes depending on whom he or she is interacting. At the same time, Jesse reaches out to help the clinically depressed Dean, who overdosed on pills, Jesse himself is pulling for that same guidance for his own insecurities. While Professor Hoberg seems to be Jesse’s guiding light, he too is searching for assistance in finding his new place in society as a retiree.

Liberal Arts is a must-see movie embedded with immense heart and soul. The witty writing perfectly shines through the outstanding cast. It is the type of movie you could watch over and over again and find deeper meaning within it each time.



Berenice Famili's picture
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