Think about when you hit thirty. If there is such a thing as a thirty year crisis, I had it. It is about not being young anymore, and leaving those twenties behind you. It is also about “What the hell am I doing with my life?” At least, that is what happened to this single zookeeper girl, I mean woman, who just did not know what was going to happen to her life. If you have not hit thirty yet, this does not apply to you, but it will someday. Or maybe you will be totally content with your life at thirty, you lucky bastard.
Liberal Arts has one main character, Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor), and two secondary characters, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) and Peter (Richard Jenkins). All three are at different points in their lives, but all have some issues. Jesse just wishes he could be in college again or at least be what he thought he was going to be at his age. Zibby wants to grow up too fast. Peter wants to stay where he is, not grow old, and stay where he is comfortable.
Jesse is in his mid-thirties, totally unhappy with his life as an admissions counselor in NYC. Things start to look up when his old professor Peter calls him up to come to his retirement party at the college. Along with being excited to be back where he has so many good memories, he meets Zibby who is a nineteen year old student whose parents are friends of Peter’s. One thing leads to the next and they strike up an unconventional romance via handwritten letters. Things become complicated when he returns to the college to see Zibby again.
Seeing as I could identify with at least one character in this film, I think writer/director Josh Radnor does an excellent job at putting feelings of regret and remembrance into both Jesse and Peter. While we all wish in some part to go back and do some things again, it is the experiences that make us the people we are. Jesse takes on a wiser professor quality around the students. He has been there and can empathize with where they are in their lives. This goes for his relationship with Zibby and making a friend with a troubled student, Dean (John Magaro).
The film has more comedy than drama, thankfully. Most of it stems from Jesse being put back into a college town with students fifteen years younger than him. The argument with Zibby over the existence of the Twilight books is very amusing, as well as Jesse trying to make the age difference between them be okay. Allison Janney makes a great hot British Romantics professor who Jesse always liked and still does. She takes advantage of that. Zac Efron also provides some hippy comedic relief as Nat, a random guy Jesse keeps running into on campus.
The bottom line is that Liberal Arts is a good film. It is that simple. It is not a stupid comedy, nor is it some life-affirming drama. There are some life lessons in it for the 19, 30, and 60 year old, and I think just about everyone can identify with something or someone in the film. Josh Radnor made a film that is part nostalgic, part “I hate my life,” and part “Everything works out in the end.”
I give Liberal Arts 4 “Twilight Books” out of 5. Appropriate meme below.
by Sarah Ksiazek