On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Liberal Arts (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
Writer/director Josh Radnor stars as Jesse, a 35-year old who returns to his alma mater in order to attend his favorite college professor’s retirement party. While there, he also meets a 19-year old college student named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). Before Jesse goes back home, he and Zibby exchange numbers.
While residing in two different states, Jesse and Zibby mail handwritten letters to one another as a form of communication. Zibby’s letters detail her favorite classical music composers and their brilliant pieces, and also her favorite operas. Jesse learns to appreciate the music and as a result has a life altering experience.
One day, Zibby extends a return invitation to Jesse with the idea that he court her, and that’s when one of the film’s most brilliant and honest segments occurs: Jesse writes on a sheet of paper, “When I am – she will be” and under the two columns he writes various ages. Examples: “When I was 19 she was 3”; Jesse looks disgusted – “When I was 16 she was 0”; Jesse drops his head in shame. But when he writes “When I am 50 she will be 34”, he livens up, and he livens up even more after writing “When I am 87 she will be 71.”
Liberal Arts doesn’t develop a plot but tells the story of a man who’s in his mid-30s and who looks back simultaneously on his past, represented by his first trip back to the campus; his present, represented by the relationship that he’d developed with Zibby; and his potential future, represented by his old college professor. The past is nothing but fond memories. The present details a very sticky situation in which Zibby wants Jesse to deflower her but he feels that he might be too old. And the future showcases the professor who, played brilliantly (as usual) by Richard Jenkins, sits in the dean’s office and begs for another three years on the job because he believes that he retired too soon.
Olsen is a terrific talent (the talent in her family) and has a very bright future ahead of her and Radnor is a very good writer. As a director and an actor he’s still amateurish, but as a writer he’s terrific. There are very few clichés in this film and what may appear to be clichés are immediately turned upside down and brought down to Earth.
One cannot label Liberal Arts strictly as a romance, a comedy, or a drama because it’s comprised of various story genres. It juggles them and doesn’t break a sweat. It also takes place in a recognizable real world and deals with the aspect of cause and consequences through and through. Everything that happens makes sense (including Nat, a reappearing character played by Zac Efron who may or may not actually exist) and the third act isn’t a traditional Hollywood ending. Heck, Jesse even exclaims to Nat, “You know, I’m not even sure if you’re real.”
This is a terrific, touching, and entirely honest film that’s about living in the now, always growing wiser, and always learning in life. This is one of the few films of 2012 to put a smile on my face and seeing that that’s a very difficult task to pull off, I commend this film for doing so effortlessly.
The special features are an Audio Commentary; Deleted Scenes; and a short Featurette.
NEW RELEASES FOR DECEMBER 18, 2012
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Sleepwalk with Me
Total Recall (Helen’s review)
Trouble with the Curve
NEW RELEASES FOR DECEMBER 21, 2012
Premium Rush (Helen’s review)
Red Hook Summer
Resident Evil: Retribution