Liberal Arts

Director: Josh Radner

Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney, Zac Efron

Written by: Josh Radnor

Running Time: 97 mins

Cert: 12A

Release date: 5th October 2012

If you are in a long-running successful sitcom like How I Met your Mother, you are going to find a way to get yourself to the big screen. Jason Segal did it successfully with Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets so why can’t the lead, Josh Radnor. Easiest route is to write, produce, director and star in your own film. That is exactly what he has done and has he managed to make the transition well? Yes, I think he has.

Jessie is a bored 35 year-old Admissions officer recently dumped by his girlfriend and struggling to understand his life in New York. He hides behind the pages of deep novels. Invited back to his old college where his “2nd favourite professor”, Peter, is retiring and they are giving him a night of speeches. While there he meets Zibby, a 19-year old drama student. He suddenly makes a connection with her. She is his intellectual equal and they form a sweet friendship by letter after Jessie returns home. However, Jessie finds himself in a dilemma as he is much older than she is, should a romance be forming or is age just a number?

This could have been quite a danger subject matter to deal with for your first film but Radnor handles it extremely well. He has cleverly surrounded himself with an excellent cast and his script is both witty and charming, while at the same time intelligent. Yes there are moments when it borders on being pompous but it doesn’t matter. There’s still plenty to enjoy.

The casting is first rate. Radnor is a likable lead and he equips himself with some of the best lines and you follow his journey with great interest but without feeling that he is sleazy or disgusting. He is a man who has met someone who inspires him and makes him realise there is more to life than just his own views. Richard Jenkins, who for my money is one of the screen’s finest, gives us another excellent performance as Peter, the elder man who has his own difficulties to deal with, such as leaving something so close to his heart.

Alison Janney waltzing in as Jessie’s favourite professor and almost steals the film with a hilarious bed-side manner that would crush most men, while a huge surprise is Zac Efron, playing totally against type as a kind of hippie Guardian Angel who Jessie meets on campus. Three short scenes and you are left wanting more.

The main attraction, however, is Elizabeth Olsen as Zibby. Here’s is a spot-on performance which oozes charm and charisma and you can fully understand why Jessie falls for her. She is smart, witty and full of energy and for me, she is an actress to seriously watch in years to come.

I really liked this film. It feels like a Woody Allen flick, yet it has a distinct enough voice of its own. It has some very amusing moments and some pretty smart lines and yes, it tries too hard sometimes but that can’t be taken as a negative. If it didn’t try at all, then we should talk. Radnor is a film maker to keep an eye on in the future and once he has settled down, I think he will be producing 5 star movies.

Strangely enough, this works as a companion piece to the other new release this week, Perks of Being A Wallflower and if you are looking for two films to see, then maybe a double of these two will do the trick. A charmer.

4/5

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