Liberal Arts

500 Days Of Film Reviews Liberal Arts And Finds An Extremely Enjoyable, Life Affirming Drama  

Jesse (Josh Radnor) is struggling with life.

His girlfriend has just left him, his job is repetitive and the attraction of living in New York has well and truly faded.

So, when a former professor invites him to his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance to return to his old college.

Whilst there, he meets 19 year old student, Zibbi (Elizabeth Olsen). They embark upon a romance based on a mutual love of literature and music.    

When Zibbi wants to take their relationship further, Jesse is suddenly struck by their age difference.

Is Zibbi mature beyond her years or is his attraction to her actually a sign that he is emotionally stunted?

Is It Any Good?

I loved Liberal Arts. It is a sweet and gentle romantic drama that is really enjoyable and made me laugh. 

What sets this film apart from other age difference romantic comedies is this - it is not really a romantic comedy.

I am aware that this may not actually  make much sense but, while Liberal Arts is predominantly concerned with Jesse’s relationship with Zibbi, it is far more interested in how we view growing up and growing older.

It asks us just why we prize youth so darn much.

Yes, it is a time of seemingly infinite possibilities. Yes it is a time when your days can be full of learning and reading. But it is also a time when you can feel lost, overwhelmed and scared - as more than one character in this film finds.

In addition, it is a time when you have to deal with older people as they view you with their rose tinted, bifocals and patronise the fact that you enjoy YA vampire fiction. Even though they haven’t read a single page of the novels they despise.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Liberal Arts also questions why we resist getting old. 

Why is aging often viewed in a negative way? (I was sitting there watching and thinking, hang on, yes, why is that?) Is it really all that bad?

Not wanting to give anything away but, on this question, I came away feeling very positive about the future!

There is another reason why Liberal Arts is a cut above. This has to do with its central performances. They are all wonderful.

Josh Radnor is perfect as Jesse. Of course, having written the script, Radnor knows Jesse inside and out. This is a character that could, in less capable hands, have seemed irritating or even downright creepy. Thankfully, he never does as the film treats all of its characters with love and respect.

Radnor cast Elizabeth Olsen as Zibbi before he had seen her superb performance in Martha, Marcy May, Marlene. Here, again, she shines. Olsen infuses her character with truth and emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins (as retiring professor Peter Hoberg) and Allison Janey (as cold, world weary Professor Judith Fairfield) give fabulous performances.

They provide much of the wit and humour in the film but are far from two dimensional characters. They too have to accept that life moves on - and that that is not necessarily a bad thing.  

Random Observations

This film made me want to read all day - and read an actual book, with pages and everything.

That vampire trilogy… so obviously the twiglet saga!

Josh Radnor wrote, starred in and directed this film - an amazing achievement I feel.

Have you seen Liberal Arts? I’d love to know your thoughts on this movie - why not leave me a comment in the box below?

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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