Once I’m past 30, man, my life is going to suck.
Jesse (Josh Radnor), a 35-year-old college admissions officer from New York City who loves literature and language, returns to his alma mater in Ohio to attend a retirement ceremony for a beloved professor (Richard Jenkins). While there he meets nineteen-year-old girl named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), whose love of literature thrills him. They become pen pals, among other things and realize more about their life than anything ever before.
I’m not going to sit-here and lie to all of you, because quite frankly, that’s just not how I roll my dice and I never intend on doing. So, by saying that I’m just going to state that when it comes to movies about trying to hold onto your youth and staying cool, I can’t really find much to relate to. I mean I’m 19 years old, I still go to college, I still take classes, I still drive my own car, and sadly, I still live under my parents roof. So that’s why when it comes to a story about an older-dude, trying to go back to his glory days and see what he can do with a much-younger gal, not only am I bit horrified (age-gaps in relationships bother me, I don’t know why), but I also find it hard to be able to reach out and say, “Hey, I know where you’re coming from, man.” Obviously, I’m probably not the only one who feels like this but it was just something that kept-on going throughout my head as I was watching this and what made it even weirder, was the fact that I actually liked the film for that reason. Very strange thing for me, indeed.
This is the sophomore-effort from writer/director Josh Radnor and I have to be frank with you, I don’t really like the guy. That’s not to say that I don’t think he has talent or isn’t funny, but I was just never a huge fan of How I Met Your Mother, and even when I did actually stop-by to check-out an episode or two, he never really came off as funny to me. He tried a bit too hard it seemed and it was almost like that TV show was going to be his only claim-to-fame. However, it seems like I am terribly wrong with that idea because the guy actually has a great talent behind-the-screen and even though I didn’t check out the guy’s first movie, I still think it’s easy to say that I look forward to seeing what this guy can do.
One of the main points about this whole flick is how people, men especially (trust me), try to play both sides of the fence when it comes to mentor-teacher relationships. They try to be hip, with it, and cool, like all of the youngsters out there, but at the same time, they can’t help themselves to throw a little bit of wisdom down there for short measure and still feel like they deserve the equality and respect because they are older and apparently, know more. I’m not saying all older-people are like this, but it’s obvious that this is how most of them feel and that’s why this movie is intriguing because it walks a fine-line between being all about being young, once again, but at the same time, also shows you that you sort of have to embrace the fact that you’re getting older, and your glory days are sort of behind you now. It’s a very true-statement to humans and the way of life, and the way that Radnor goes about it in this flick really surprised the hell out of me, mainly because it seems believable.
Before any of you out-there begin to write this movie off as a piece of garbage because it shows a relationship between two people that are 16-years-apart from one another, don’t worry, because Radnor sort of shows how it as well. What I mean by that is that Radnor understands that this “sort of” relationship between these two people is a bit ridiculous in terms of the age-gap, but also makes it seem pretty reasonable because they actually share a lot in-common and it makes you wonder if Radnor is ever going to take that plunge into her bed, or just her brain. There is some-bit of suspense to that, but while you’re waiting, you can also just sit-back and realize that these two don’t just have to be boyf and girlf, they can actually be very, very good-friends that can help each other in the world and how to make it better for themselves. It’s a nice relationship, that is treated more as a friendship and shows you that sometimes, a man and a woman can have more of a connection between each other by sharing thoughts and ideas, rather than fluids. If, you get what I’m saying.
Radnor’s ideas are very well thought-out and very pleasant to see play-out, in terms of his easy-going direction, but the film as a whole, just doesn’t seem to stick with you, quite as much as the scenes between Radnor and Olsen. A lot of the scenes where it’s just Radnor talking to other people about life, growing-up, and reading literature, feel like they came right from his brain and obviously from a guy that knows what he’s talking, but is also trying to sound a lot like Woody Allen but less realistic in how people actually speak. Some people here work in montages and speak as if they’ve been waiting to say these witty lines for days on end and as entertaining and funny as it may be to hear in a movie like this, it sort of comes off as a bit unrealistic. People who love literature and read about a book-a-day, would definitely have open discussions about the meanings and themes behind certain pieces of it, but still, would they really get right down to it by quoting random lines and it’s significance and meaning to actual-life as a whole? Maybe they would, I guess it all depends on the type of person you’re talking about, but here, it doesn’t really quite work and shows you that maybe Radnor has some areas he needs to work on.
However, the most believable aspect behind this whole movie is actually the friendship between Olsen and Radnor, and I think that’s mainly because their chemistry is so perfect. Olsen works perfectly as Zibby, because she has this look and act to her that seems wise beyond her years, whereas Radnor has this boyish charm to him that makes him seem like a guy that’s tired with getting old and just wants to live it up a bit. Watching them work together is great and really has you thinking about how much you can’t blame the guy for being so attracted to her in the first-place and may just have to go for the relationship, despite the 16-year age-difference between the two. Yeah, I’m a big believer in that those types of relationships just creep me out and rarely ever work but for this one, I was able to let my guard down just a tad bit and that’s why I enjoyed this film, as well as the relationship a lot more.
Playing the aging-professor of Radnor’s is Richard Jenkins, who, once-again, gives a fabulous performance that shows the guy being the coolest and hippest old dude out there. Some of the scenes with Jenkins really struck a chord with me, since it’s obvious to see how and why somebody would get so caught-up in teaching other people all you know and it just shows you the type of skill and talent Jenkins has as an actor. Allison Janney is alright as the stand-offish professor of Radnor’s who shows up every once and awhile, and acts like a total bitch and as good as she is at playing it, it’s a bit annoying considering it’s an act she does quite-well and a bit too often for my liking. The most surprising one out of this whole cast is probably Zac Efron as the hippie who shows up on campus whenever Radnor is around, and they just chill-out, talk, and trade some soul-secrets with one another. Efron’s very good in a small-role like this and it has me happier to know that not only can this guy dance and sing, but he can also act and make his presence one that you’re happy be around. Hopefully it continues on-and-on for him, as I’ve always had hope in him, no matter how much The Lucky One still stays in my mind.
Consensus: Though it’s ideas and themes about growing-up and trying to stay cool don’t stick with you as much as they intend-to, Liberal Arts still proves that Josh Radnor is not only just a likable guy in-front of the screen, but knows how to write and direct a movie that shows him for what he used to be, wants to be, and gives us a feeling like we will soon be hitting the same mid-life crisis this guy seems to just be hitting, as of right now. Poor guy.