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December 18, 2012

7

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Liberal Arts (2012)

by NIR SHALEV

Liberal Arts (2012)

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

Arbitrage

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Pitch Perfect

Sleepwalk with Me

Total Recall (Helen’s review)

Trouble with the Curve

NEW RELEASES FOR DECEMBER 21, 2012

Killer Joe

Premium Rush (Helen’s review)

Red Hook Summer

Resident Evil: Retribution


7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 26 2012

    I loved this film a lot, but as I said in my other review, we’re essentially getting HIMYM the film.

  2. Dec 26 2012

    And I’m surprised you think Radnor is an amateur actor. True, he may be playing only one type, but we he plays that type very, very, well. Of course, we haven’t seen him break that mold yet…

  3. Dec 26 2012

    I’ve never heard of him before this film and found that even though he was convincing, he was just too normal. He wasn’t really acting as much as he was plainly speaking, but he never appeared insincere.

  4. Dec 27 2012

    After however many years it is now of starring on “How I Met Your Mother” Radnor can’t fairly be called an amateur (defined as unskilled and/or unpaid) actor. However, he is new to movies. LIBERAL ARTS is his second big screen role following HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE (lack of spacing in the original), another indie of his own writing/directing.

  5. Dec 27 2012

    @Aaron: What is “HIMYM”?

  6. Dec 27 2012

    How I Met Your Mother in acronym speak. ^_^

  7. Dec 28 2012

    I saw an episode of that show once, several years back, and thought that the acting was so awful on behalf of every single actor that I chose to never accidentally, or even on purpose, watch that show. It was… horrifyingly bad. Plus, I don’t watch TV and I abhor laugh tracks.

    I’ve heard of HAPPYTHNANKYOUMOREPLEASE but had never bothered to find out what it is. And I really dislike Indie films (and hipsters, but that’s another subject altogether); Liberal Arts was a fluke.

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