Liberal Arts
dir-scr Josh Radnor
prd Brice Dal Farra, Claude Dal Farra, Jesse Hara, Lauren Munsch, Josh Radnor
with Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, John Magaro, Ali Ahn, Ned Daunis, Kate Burton, Robert Desiderio, Michael Weston
release US 14.Sep.12, UK 5.Oct.12
12/US 1h37
Liberal Arts
Meeting of minds: Olsen and Radnor

efron jenkins janney
sundance london fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Liberal Arts There's a wonderfully observant tone to this comedy that holds our attention even when the film begins to drift into smugness. But the cast is likeable and fresh, delivering the smart, funny dialog with charm and skill.

At 35, Jesse (Radnor) is working in New York when he's invited back to his Ohio university to celebrate the retirement of his favourite professor, Peter (Jenkins). While there Jesse meets 19-year-old Zibby (Olsen), and the two begin a sparky friendship that shifts unexpectedly as they write letters over the next few months. Confronted with romance, Jesse worries that the age difference is too drastic. Along the way he also meets free-spirited drop-out Nat (Efron), who doesn't seem to worry about anything, and pained intellectual Dean (Magaro), who touches a nerve.

Yes, the script's obvious construction pushes Jesse through a sort of coming-of-age process. And writer-director-actor Radnor seems to be saying that by age 35 you've finally learned everything there is to know about life. This appears even more ridiculous alongside witty, articulate older characters played by ace veterans Jenkins and Janney (as a literature prof), even if their characters also imply that growing up requires accepting your age and acting appropriately. Which frankly isn't a very interesting (or truthful) point to make.

Fortunately, Radnor has a charmingly hang-dog presence that lets us feel his easy camaraderie with the people around him. We might even like to hang out with him: smart, funny and thoughtful even if he's rather elitist when it comes to literature and music. Olsen's bubbly, open-eyed physicality is a great counterpoint to his man-boy charm, and their chemistry is very strong. While Efron, Jenkins and Janney have their own jaggedly entertaining moments, stealing every scene they can.

And while much of what these people do is infuriating, it's so endearingly awkward that we enjoy the journey with them. At the end, Jesse feels like his voyage of discovery is over: he has finally grown up. But we know better. And if the film had recognised this fact, it might have had a stronger resonance. On the other hand, Radnor hasn't got there yet himself, and his naivete is almost as intriguing as Jesse's.

cert 15 themes, language 24.Apr.12 slf

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