This quiet, unassuming rom-com from the How I Met Your Mother guy turns out to be surprisingly watchable....
MPI / 97 Minutes / 2012 / Rated PG-13 / Street Date: December 18, 2012
Liberal Arts strives to not be a completely identifiable boy-meets-girl tale, and for that, it is distinctly refreshing. In someone else's hands, the treacle that threatens every plot point of a movie like this one might have crept in and ruined the party, but somehow director Josh Radnor keeps an even keel to Liberal Arts that makes it feel both fun and emotionally authentic.
The playing field of the picture is the ennui of post-college life. Radnor plays Jesse, a going-nowhere onetime English major who has a banal administrative job at an NYC college that he loathes. But when an old teacher of his from his alma mater calls him up, wanting him to speak at his retirement dinner, Jesse finds himself in a situation that just might turn his mumblecore drag of a life upside-down.
See, during his trip to his old stomping grounds, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), his professor's sophomore-in-college daughter, and their connection jolts the dude to his core. Of course, they both want to get their hands on each other, but Zibby has a wide-eyed, world-is-my-oyster optimism to everything she does, which doesn't jive all that well with Jesse's thirtysomething lack of faith in the world. And as Liberal Arts kicks into its wonderful second half, we watch the two try to make something out of the slippery situation they've found themselves in.
Clearly influenced by the quiet musings of a movie like Garden State, Liberal Arts may not feel like a fresh or innovative motion picture, but should viewers accept its tricky rom-com sensibilities for what they are, there are threads of insightful fun here. If anything, Radnor knows that he wants to give his complicated story a shot at playing itself out as honestly as possible, so he doesn't worry about cliche plotholes or amorous on-screen situations that might seem disappointingly familiar. No, he goes with his gut, and as a result, Liberal Arts' heart-on-its-sleeve earnest comes damned close to traversing the minefield of its genre normalcy.