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Sundance London: Liberal Arts Review

Director: Josh Radnor

Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olson, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins

Running Time: 97 mins

Synopsis: When thirty-something Jesse is invited back to his alma mater, he falls for a young 19-year-old college student and is faced with the powerful attraction that springs up between them.

LIBERAL ARTS is an American comedy from Josh Radnor, a relatively unknown, at least to me, filmmaker and actor mostly known for his work appearing in the TV show HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, recurring roles as a vocal actor on FAMILY GUY (as his HIMYM character Ted Mosby), and his 2010 debut feature HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE, which actually screened at the US Sundance a couple of years ago. LIBERAL ARTS revolves around thirty-five year old New Yorker and indeed total book geek Jesse, who is invited back to his former college in Ohio by retiring professor Peter (Richard Jenkins), for a leaving dinner. There he meets 19-year-old Zibby (Elizabeth Olson), a young student with whom he finds an instant connection, and embarks on a continuing long distance relationship in the form of old fashioned letter writing between the two.

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am a sucker for an old fashioned romantic comedy, and this is what this film delivers in spades. Radnor has crafted a wonderful little story that doesn’t drift into cheese, but works at a much more intellectual level that lets the audience think about what this lovely group of characters are going through, experiencing and feeling. It’s almost Woody Allen-esque in its sense of tone, and I think I also heard one reviewer in the screening compare it to some of the work of Cameron Crowe, to which I also kind of agree. It’s thought-provoking, charming, sensitive, heart warming fodder that you can’t help but warm to. It’s very easy to identify with some of the characters, and understand with the emotions that they are feeling.

The film features some superb performances, especially from the likes of Olson as the vulnerable Zibby and Richard Jenkins who is superb as the reluctant, retiring professor Peter. There’s also a wonderful scene stealing turn from Allison Janney, last seen in the acclaimed MARGARET, as Jesse’s old English professor, a role that has to be seen to be believed. Also, a special mention has to go to one Zac Efron, who’s surprising performance as Nat, despite getting top billing, only appears in a handful on scenes, all of them hugely hilarious and entertaining. A highlight of the film.

I was surprised with how much I identified with LIBERAL ARTS. It’s not the high brow, quirking, hard to follow, slog of a journey that I expected. It’s about finding one’s self, opening up avenues in life through experience and using other people in said life to make that happen.

LIBERAL ARTS is truly the gem of the Sundance London festival, and a film that I can’t wait for the masses to get their hands and eyes on. It’s yet to get a release in the UK, but it’s surely a film that will be snapped up quite quickly, and feature prominently during this year’s awards season run-up.

A joy.

LIBERAL ARTS was reviewed at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Paul has been writing for film websites for over ten years. The Hollywood News was born out of love for film and his frustration at not being a very good filmmaker himself. Those who cannot do, write about – or so they say. Aside from the site, Paul has directed a music video (badly), has one credit to his name on the IMDb, enjoys running, driving (now that he has finally passed his test at the age of 33), and of course going to the movies.
  • http://www.tdstranger.com Tom

    My friends wife studied Liberal Arts at college and I always just wrote it off as some American crap that we Europeans would never bother ourselves with. How wrong I was! What a delightful well produced (and scripted) movie!