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Liberal Arts


Stars: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Zac Efron, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser

Director: Josh Radnor

Another aspiring auteur hits the screen without making a memorably huge dent in it.

This time it’s writer, director and star Radnor (from the TV series ‘How I Met Your Mother’) whose second movie as director (the first was 2010’s ‘Thankyoumoreplease’ – don’t ask me!) who gives a competent enough performance as a 30-something “bookish and newly single” graduate who decides to return to his old college for the retirement dinner of his favourite former professor Jenkins.

In something of an attempted riff on the traditional college-set American comedy-drama about a neophyte student’s rites of passage, Radnor’s adult rites of passage find him falling for much younger and precocious music-loving 19-year-old sophomore student Olsen and making contact again with his influential former professor Janney while he tries to reconcile his new feelings and erase his near-belief that the best years of his life are already over.

Says Radnor (as Radnor, not his on-screen alter ego): Liberal Arts is at once a love-letter to a liberal arts education and a recognition of its limits. It posits that books and the academic mind-set can be simultaneously a liberation and a kind of prison, that an over-developed mind paired with a disengaged heart can bring more anxiety than joy”.

I’m grateful to Radnor for his explanation. If I’d not read it, I’d have sworn Liberal Arts was simply an enjoyable enough and mildly amusing Woody Allen-influenced comedy - sharply played, especially by Jenkins and Janney, but hardly a telling dissection of the values or otherwise of an American college education.

While the acting and direction give it a classy sheen, in the final analysis it lacks compelling emotional depth and genuine conviction and could have benefited from at least one more polish of the screenplay. Or, as Radnor once put it, “Thankyoumoreplease”.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Revolver/Picturehouse. Colour.
97 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 07 Oct 2012