Newly single, 35, and uninspired by his job, Jesse Fisher worries that his best days are behind him. But no matter how much he buries his head in a book, life keeps pulling Jesse back. When his favorite college professor invites him to campus to speak at his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance. He is prepared for the nostalgia of the dining halls and dorm rooms, the parties and poetry seminars; what he doesn’t see coming is Zibby–a beautiful, precocious, classical-music-loving sophomore. Zibby awakens scary, exciting, long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection that Jesse thought he had buried forever.
Liberal Arts is a very interesting movie about life, love, regret and looking backwards to move forwards. All of us have had moments in life where the past looks a bit rosier I would think, and Josh Radnor acts in, directs and wrote this cute little ditty about a 35 year old college admissions officer in New York returning to his old college stomping grounds. The feelings and revelations will be familiar to most people on some level.
Radnor plays Jesse, a guy that has just lost his girlfriend and decides to accept an invitation to speak at a retirement party for his former college professor Peter. (Richard Jenkins) The college back in Ohio is a liberal arts college and this film has a decidedly artsy feel to it. Literature is front and center throughout and it is a cerebral romantic drama. Jesse loves books and those that write them.
The retirement affair goes somewhat sour, but Jesse is introduced to a gal named Zippy (Elizabeth Olsen) that rejuvenates Jesse in more ways than one. Coming on the trip, Jesse was feeling down and out and uncertain of what he was doing. Zippy makes him feel alive and young again, and they strike up a relationship of sorts. However, inappropriate the age difference might be, the two seem to be perfect fits in all the other ways that matter. They decide to stay in touch and write one another on a regular basis when Jesse returns to New York and life as usual.
While this relationship is only one of many that is explored in this movie, it is the one that seems to hit home the hardest for me. Zac Efron plays Nat, a spiritual goof ball of sorts. John Magaro plays a depressed student that crosses paths with Jesse and Allison Janney is his former lit teacher that lights his fire in more ways than one.
What makes this movie so intriguing is the communication found within. If you are not interested in high level conversation and the liberal arts, I would suggest you move off of this particular title. It is full of wit and humor, but none of it is cheaply arrived at. The humor, like the conversation is a bit highbrow. As such it is not your everyday rom-com to say the least.
Elizabeth Olsen is clearly the superstar of this movie in my view as the 19-year-old girl that wants to steal Jesse’s heart. The girl is absolutely vivacious as she lights up the screen every single time she shows up. Jesse is troubled by all the normal things you might wonder about in a relationship between two people so far apart in age, and it threatens to eliminate their chances at happiness. Radnor also shines as Jesse but in a slightly less exciting way. Radnor is more of a dry kind of guy on screen, and he uses that to come across with a sort of intelligent aura that is tough to explain. When he speaks, however, the viewer wants to listen to what he has to say. I would suppose that is a high compliment for an actor.
Liberal Arts is not going to be the perfect movie for everyone, but the vast majority will find it irresistible. I found it to be a solid and enjoyable film that passed the chick flick test. That is, both my wife and I enjoyed it from start to finish without either of us having to roll our eyes. I would guess that makes it a pretty darn good movie overall.
Be sure to check it out yourself and you will see what I mean.