Liberal Arts (3 stars)

Liberal Arts

Gentle indie romcom from How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor

A successful and beloved US sitcom star delves into his soul, and finds there a story of revisiting one’s past, coming to terms with one’s mistakes, and getting it on with a gorgeous, playful, precociously wise young woman. That was how the world got Garden State from Zach Braff in 2004; it’s also the genesis of this second feature by the engaging star of How I Met Your Mother, Josh Radnor.

The resulting film is strongly reminiscent of Braff’s film, and of Cameron Crowe’s not-dissimilar 2005 disaster Elizabethtown – but it’s a rather neater, slicker object than either, and a lot of fun to watch in its gentle way. Gentleness, however, is such the keynote that the whole thing feels a little muffled in nicey-niceness. Radnor’s directionless, dishevelled thirtysomething Jesse returns to his alma mater to see a favourite professor; whilst in town he strikes up a friendship with Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s fresh, bookish, ravishing, and but 19 years old.

The queasy logic of Woody Allen’s world – that a younger woman will always be an easier ride, in every respect, than a grown-up woman with history – gets an earnest interrogation, as Jesse deals with Zibby’s lack of life experience and fondness for blockbuster vampire romances. Radnor is terrific company – big-eyed and lovable as a labrador, but possessed of fine comic timing and a certain nascent gravitas – and Olsen, the breakout star from Martha Marcy May Marlene, acquits herself well in what could have been a throwaway role.

Jesse’s just a bit too apt to come out with eloquent and meaningful speeches at exactly the right moments; and the quirky supporting characters tend towards the indie stereotype. It says it all that the philosophising stoner dropout who offers Jesse peculiar guidance from the shadows is played by the entirely clean-cut Zac Efron, and that the hippy beanie hat on his head looks shop-fresh.

Selected release from Fri 5 Oct.

Liberal Arts Trailer

Liberal Arts

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 1h 37min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Josh Radnor
  • Written by: Josh Radnor
  • Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Josh Radnor
  • UK release: 5 October 2012

Directionless thirtysomething Jesse (writer-director Radnor) returns to his home town to see a favourite professor, in the meantime striking up a friendship with bookish and ravishing 19-year-old Zibby (Olsen). How I Met Your Mother star Radnor is terrific company and his second feature a lot of fun, if a little muffled…