Film Review: Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts is a warm and engaging comedy drama. The themes that Josh Radnor’s film covers are almost universally applicable.

Jesse is a thirty-something admissions officer living in New York. When he is invited to his old professor’s retirement dinner at his alma mater, Jesse is keen to attend. There he meets Elizabeth, a young undergraduate who is an acquaintance of the professor. Jesse and Elizabeth have a mutual interest in one another other, despite the age gap…

Josh Radnor, who writes, directs and stars in Liberal Arts, appears to know his subject area well. There is a level of insight that shines through the entire film. The script is great, with its humour and involving exchanges. The characters are all well written. Radnor has a flair for creating interesting and authentic characters of all ages.

Liberal Arts will be particularly pertinent to those who graduate from university a few years ago. Nevertheless, the broader theme of age and ageing will be applicable to the widest remit. It is not difficult to identify with Jesse, who does not quite feel his age. There is also some solace in the learned professor’s pearls of wisdom. The beauty of Liberal Arts is the way it depicts all of the main characters as struggling with this. The well-crafted dialogue and characters with depth ensure that viewers will find resonance on some level.

The setting of Liberal Arts is what seems to be the quintessential American campus. It is easy to see why protagonist Jesse would feel such a sense of nostalgia about a place like this. The references to literature are amusing throughout the film. The camera work is controlled, and the film features a good use of music.

Josh Radnor plays Jesse perfectly as the likeable bookish protagonist. Elizabeth Olsen is strong as ever as Elizabeth, while Richard Jenkins brings both humour and acute sadness as Peter. Zac Efron steps out of his comfort zone in a welcome manner, while Allison Janney is great as the aloof Professor Judith.

Liberal Arts simultaneously considers the social impact of literary escapism and the anxieties of ageing in a way that is thoughtful, authentic and amusing. Josh Radnor’s film is highly recommended.

Liberal Arts is being screened at Sundance London, which runs from 26-29th April 2012.