Liberal Arts — Movie Review

liberal arts josh radnor elizabeth olsen“Everything is okay.”

Jesse Fischer (Josh Radnor) is 35 years old and working as in admissions for some college in NYC. As if his chronic ennui wasn’t enough, at the start of the film, some jerk steals Jesse’s bag of dirty clothes from the laundromat and his girlfriend leaves him.

Ennui (noun): a feeling of dissatisfaction due to being super-bored (generally caused by reading one too many literary novels).

Coincidentally, Jesse is invited to return to his beloved alma mater for his second-favorite professor’s retirement dinner where he meets a nineteen-year-old drama major named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), and then the rest of the movie happens.

I enjoyed this film written by, directed by, and starring Josh Radnor.

And into *SPOILER* territory we go—

Ted Mosby's even-more-somber twin brother, and Wolverine's cousin.

Ted Mosby’s even-more-somber twin brother, or Wolverine’s cousin?

The character of Jesse Fischer is a less fun version of Ted Mosby (Radnor’s character from How I Met Your Mother). They’re both somewhat pretentious and are dissatisfied with life, and both seem to ward off that sense of dissatisfaction by courting women. However, Jesse Fischer’s final growth in Liberal Arts is more internal than it is external (Teddy Westside’s need to find “the one”).

For the most part, Jesse attains new stages of growth throughout the film by being pushed by another character. As such, I’ll discuss the film by focusing on these characters.

Hippy Zac Efron

Jesse meets Nat (Zac Efron) while wandering the college campus at night (as we alum tend to do). Nat is not a student at the school, but a hippy-drifter who seems to be there for no reason other than to remind Jesse that everything is okay. He does so by actually saying, “Everything is okay.” The script makes a self-referential nod toward Nat’s role by having Jesse say aloud that he’s not even sure Nat is really there.

Though I initially found Nat off-putting, I eventually took a liking to him and his stupid hat.

Better than the Scarlet Witch and whatever her name was on Godzilla

Elizabeth Olsen - Zibby - Liberal Arts

How can you say no to this face?

Zibby, perhaps my favorite Elizabeth Olsen performance to date, is Jesse’s nineteen-year-old love interest. With Jesse’s nostalgia for his college years and Zibby’s disenchantment with men her age (who, let’s face it, generally aren’t the greatest), these two begin their relationship with a platonic guise which inevitably gives way to romance. Jesse is understandably reluctant to start the relationship due to the age gap, but after some math (e.g., “when I’m 86, she’ll be 70”) he decides to go for it. When he learns she’s a fan of an unnamed series of vampire novels, however, cracks begin to show.

Side note: I’m a fan of both Whedon Avengers movies.

The Second-favorite and Favorite Professors

One professor teaches Jesse not to retire too early, and the other teaches him not to over-romanticize the past. Neither lesson is taught in a conventional manner; the latter is a bit more entertaining. Like Jesse’s interactions with Zibby and Nat, the underlying message is for Jesse to keep moving forward.

We, the Melancholic Few

Meeting Zibby in a coffee house for one of their early non-dates, Jesse bumps into Dean, a genius English major with manic-depressive disorder (I don’t think the film expressly says any of those things, except for the genius bit). When we first see Dean, he’s half-asleep on a couch with a copy of Infinite Jest in his hands. This is a nail-on-the-head foreshadowing of the subplot surrounding the character.

Unlike the other supporting characters, Dean’s primary role isn’t to teach Jesse to move on. Rather, Dean provides a means for Jesse to pass on the lessons he learns.

Overall, the film likely isn’t for everyone. I certainly enjoyed it, but this was largely because I majored in English (the fact that I’m a HIMYM fan also made the bits of comedy, which certain critics apparently disliked, a welcome addition). If you majored in the liberal arts, there’s a decent chance you’ll be into this movie.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read Infinite Jest.

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