It’s 12:45 pm
So about 7 months ago,my buddy Romey stumbled across a huge sale at a local library and through this sale,I picked up the first seven seasons of “How I Met Your Mother”.
Of the five main actors on the show,the one I knew the least about was Josh Radnor who plays Ted Mosby,who telling the story to his kids.
I had never watched anything with Radnor before “Mother” or at least nothing I can remember. But when I spotted Radnor’s name on “Liberal Arts”,I took a peek and when I saw it was a IFC release,I took it as a sign to take a look at it. Thus is how the cheetah and I ended up watching today’s movie.
Jesse Fisher (Radnor) is a 35 year old college admissions officer in New York City whose life is in stuck mode. His job isn’t challenging,his girlfriend just broke up with him and some dude just stole his clothes at the laundry mat. Life is not Jesse’s friend at the moment.
When his favorite college professor,Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins) decides to retire after 37 years at a liberal arts university in Ohio,invites Jesse to attend his retirement dinner,Jesse jumps at the chance. Professor Hoberg has Jesse stay at his home as a guest.
As Jesse and Hoberg are driving through the campus,Jesse spots his old Romantics Lit teacher,Judith Fairfield (Allison Janney) and teases Peter by calling her his favorite college professor.
Before the retirement dinner Jesse is introduced to some friends of Peter’s including their 19 year old daughter Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who takes a instant liking to Jesse.
The retirement dinner is a bit sad as Professor Hoberg seems to be having second thoughts already,his speech is hard to handle and Jesse decides to take a walk.
As he comes across a old tree that he seems to recognized,Jesse is greeted by a young man named Nat who asks Jesse if his name is Ethan,when Jesse says “No”,Nat decides to call him him Ethan anyways. Nat picks up the sound of a party and drags Jesse along where they run into Zibby again.
Zibby and Jesse hang out the weekend with Jesse feeling the age gap. Despite this,they grow close and Zibby asks Jesse to write her old fashioned letters “pen on paper” style.
Jesse also meets Dean,a brilliant but troubled student who is reading a favorite book of Jesse’s. Dean (John Magaro) is a bit aloof towards Jesse but later apologizes.
Jesse returns home and he and Zibby begin to exchange letters,becoming closer.
We see Professor Hoberg is lost in retirement and wants to come back for 3 more years.
The school’s dean tries to explain that they have already hired Peter’s replacement and that his hands are tied,Peter bitterly strike back at the dean,damaging their friendship.
Zibby invites Jesse back to campus to see her and he takes her up on her offer. He runs across Dean and gives him a ride to his dorm.
Jesse and Zibby have a small disagreement about a vampire book she is reading for fun,he thinks she is above that and has a hard time understanding why she likes it. He actually takes the book and leaves her for part of the day while he reads it.
The couple is seen in a coffee shop by Peter ,who acknowledges Zibby but not Jesse.
Jesse tries to explain but Peter says one cannot live in the past.
When Zibby offers Jesse a very special and priceless moment,Jesse gently turns her down with hurts Zibby’s feelings which leads the two of them going in different directions. Jesse learns a lot about himself before he leaves for home but he takes the lessons gained to heart.
While it appears Zibby and Jesse will never speak again,fate has other ideas and some unresolved issues will have to be faced in order for both of them to finally start living their own lives…..
So did we like “Liberal Arts”? Yes…..quite a bit actually,this is a really good movie which could have been great except for one thing: Radnor and Olsen have ZERO chemistry onscreen. Olsen’s Zibby is charming and sweet but Radnor never seems comfortable with her at all. He never lets Jesse enter the danger zone in the relationship,he is supposed to allow himself to run with this free spirit but never once do you ever feel he does. Considering that Radnor both wrote and directed “Liberal Arts”,its rather shocking he didn’t see this in dailies and adjust his acting,where he comes across as stiff and wooden with Olsen,his connections with the other characters are warm,insightful and moving.
Olsen works very hard trying to connect with Radnor,she has a real natural beauty around her and she is outstanding as the young woman in a hurry to grow up.
Richard Jenkins as Peter was also good and I wish we could have seen which direction his Professor Hoberg would have taken. Janney’s take as a hardened and broken Professor Fairfield also was good. The sad irony of someone who taught Romantic Lit but stopped believing in romance years ago isn’t lost on Jesse when she and him have a discussion about life,his sadness and pity towards her radiates while her bitterness and hardened heart can be felt just as strongly.
While Jesse and Jesse are the main story here and make “Liberal Arts” a fine film,one thinks if Radnor has gone in a slightly different direction,”Liberal Arts” could have been a great film.
“Liberal Arts” is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 97 minutes. Special features include a Director’s commentary.
The cheetah and I both give “Liberal Arts” two thumbs/4 paws up.