Liberal Arts 3/4: A movie review by James Berardinelli
Liberal Arts is a parfait – a light, enjoyable concoction that goes down easily but doesn’t linger…writes James Berardinelli.
The movie is great “in the moment” but may be difficult to recall with any specificity after time has elapsed. The film has a friendly, sophisticated sit-com tone, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that Josh Radnor, the star/writer/director, is best known for How I Met Your Mother, which began its long run in 2005. Liberal Arts is a nostalgia-tinged look back at college perhaps not as it really was but as we’d like to remember it being. And, despite occasionally sharp dialogue and some brilliantly written scenes, the film as a whole never transcends “pleasant.”
To his credit, although Radnor plays the lead character, he never forces the camera to linger on him to the detriment of his co-stars. His portrayal remains low key and his screenplay gives them the best lines and strongest moments. There are three noteworthy performances: Elizabeth Olsen, who plays college sophomore Zibby; Richard Jenkins as retiring professor Peter Hoberg; and Allison Janney essaying an unromantic Romantics professor. Radnor is Jesse Fisher, a bored admissions officer at a New York university who returns to his alma mater to pay farewell to Hoberg. At age 35, he has now spent three times as much time in post-college life as he did on campus, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming seduced by the atmosphere and falling for 19-year old Zibby, a potential relationship that shocks and distresses Professor Hoberg.
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