Josh Radnor’s “Liberal Arts” is funny and sweet, but unfocused

By Wesley Emblidge

Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Radnor in “Liberal Arts”

As a high school senior, college is one of the main things on my mind. However, something I think about almost as much as college itself is life after college. How will I get a job? Find a place to live? Pay taxes? Afford insurance? The day you graduate college is the day you’re truly on your own for the first time. Star/writer/director Josh Radnor’s second feature film (his first being 2010’s “happythankyoumoreplease”), “Liberal Arts,” gives some insight into this idea toward the start, but unfortunately loses it in favor of some other storylines and relationships. The film is still very funny and a big improvement over Radnor’s last film, but I really wish it had stuck with some of its more interesting ideas that it brought up early on.

Jesse (Radnor) is a college graduate living in New York, who returns to his college one weekend for his former professor Peter Hoberg’s (Richard Jenkins) retirement party. While there, he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a student at the school who he strikes up a relationship with. After he leaves they write letters, bond over their love of books, and contemplate where their lives will take them. The big problem here? Jesse is 35 years old, and Zibby is only 19.

This is the main plotline in “Liberal Arts,” Jesse attempting to decide how exactly he should deal with this relationship. One of the best scenes in the movie is a blissfully simple one. We watch Jesse’s thoughts expressed on a piece of paper, as he examines the age difference with the help of a chart. “When I was 16, she was….0.” You cringe with him. “When I’m 80, she’ll be…64.” Doesn’t seem quite as bad.

However the film isn’t even able to stick with this storyline either, it’s what we get the most of but the film is unfortunately really overloaded with other characters and plotlines. Jesse connects with old teachers, a suicidal student at the school, and even has a few run-ins with a stoner character named Nat, played by Zac Efron, who for once, manages to be bearable in a role. The movie doesn’t feel prolonged, just unfocused. It’s a much better film than “happythankyoumoreplease,” and I’m really interested to see what Radnor does next. At the very least, he does have a great voice throughout his films, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. “Liberal Arts” is overall, a very funny and sweet film, despite being a bit overstuffed.


4/5 Stars


“Liberal Arts” will be in limited theaters on September 14.