This is the bittersweet story of a man struggling to grow up. Liberal Arts is a romantic comedy about the newly dumped Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor), a boy in his mid-30s who, on re-visiting his old university, finds himself falling for student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) – a somewhat uncomfortable attraction given their 16-year age gap.
Given the current news headlines about a 15-year-old school girl eloping with her 30-year-old Maths teacher, Liberal Arts appears to be bang on trend!
Radnor stars as the literature-loving, book-worm “Jesse”; a college recruiter who, by his own admission, is unmarketable thanks to his combined degree of English and History. After being invited back to Ohio, to his old university by his former second favourite professor (Richard Jenkins), Jesse finds himself lost once again in the picturesque, academic, enviable world of the student.
When Jesse is introduced to Zibby, the post-grad daughter of the professor’s friends, there is instant attraction – both physical and intellectual.
After a fate-inducing coincidence involving a rather unintelligible character, Nat, played by the seemingly multi-faceted Zac Efron, Zibby and Jesse arrange a coffee date.
The unconventional relationship intensifies and then takes a surprising, and yet satisfying turn. Rather than following a formulaic “romantic comedy” path, Radnor has clearly sought to avoid the predictable, and instead offers this refreshingly unique storyline.
Although there are concentrated elements to this film, and almost pretentious references to literature, the constant “educational” theme keeps the film afloat in a very inimitable way.
Both Oslen and Radnor come across as sophisticated and intellectual, and their relationship is very convincing. A short sequence of letter writing between the two, amalgamated together into an ostentatious composition provides the perfect example of where Radnor is trying to illustrate the intellectual level of the two main characters. This is very hit and miss; it makes Zibby and Jesse simultaneously amiable and irritating.
Jenkins does an excellent job as the disproving professor; his role as the retiring teacher mirrors the age-related problems Jesse has with not wanting to grow old.
Overall, Liberal Arts is steeped in humour; Jenkins specifically offers dry comedy to the otherwise rather wet film content.
Oslen is the perfect bundle of energy and her character is far removed from the usual “sexually charged” youths that litter movies nowadays.
Efron on his part does an excellent job as a character who may or may not be a figment of Jesse’s imagination – a perfect little ingredient to this indie rom-com.
Liberal Arts is intended for sincerity, but at the same time avoids it totally. The film is deliciously funny and distinctive in places, with some real heart-warming moments.
Indie fans will no doubt celebrate its deliverance, but fans of more action and crude humour should avoid it.
Watch the trailer here: