The quirky and original rom com is clever and kind, in equal measures. It manages to compare and contrast the problems of youth and of age, yet maintains a pleasantly light tone throughout.
From the trailer, you may be expecting it to be a love poem to the university experience, as having been the best part of anyone’s life, with sickening and saccharine American nostalgia sprinkled over the mix.
Okay, there is some of that. Our hero, Jesse (Josh Radnor, who writes and directs too) works in admissions for a New York City university. He is asked by his former professor, Peter (Richard Jenkins, who is just terrific) to say a few words at his retirement event.
This takes Jesse back to the very beautiful Kenyon College in Ohio. Radnor went to Kenyon and clearly loves the place, but with reservations.
Jessie is 35, but falls in love with Zibby, who is a 19-year-old student.
Elizabeth Olsen is completely wonderful as Zibby. Since “Martha Marcy”, the youngest Olsen has completely eclipsed her two older celebrity siblings and she gives a subtle and nuanced performance here that is a joy to watch.
One scene shows Jesse in the cafeteria, trying to look comfortable, while clearly feeling his age. The script is on the wry side of funny, book-loving and warm.
Of the ensemble, Jenkins, Allison Janney (ex West Wing and a Kenyon College alumna), Zac Efron and John Magaro manage to overcome stereotypes and create vivid characters.
One of the greatest truths of this movie is the unvarnished and clear-eyed look at academia and academics. My parents were both academics and it’s good to see a film that smashes the ivory tower ideals and shows the issues university teachers deal with.
But it’s really a tale of how a bunch of people who just love books deal with the reality of getting older. You’ll come out of it thoughful, but happy, with memories of beautiful classical music in the soundtrack playing through your head.
I saw a preview screening at Stratford Picturehouse but it will be out everywhere in a couple of weeks. Please do go to your local Picturehouse and see it. Radnor and Olsen have real chemisty and “Liberal Arts” allows these two stars to truly shine.