Liberal Arts, written and directed by Josh Radnor, took me by surprise. In a good way. The film is an ode to growing old, staying young and everything in-between. Josh Radnor, as the unsatisfied thirty five year old Jesse, and Elizabeth Olsen as the bright, intelligent yet somewhat precocious nineteen year-old Zibby are both compelling and believable in their respective roles. Radnor brings wit and charisma to Jesse and Olsen is a complete revelation as she shines her way through each of her scenes.
I liked Liberal Arts. A lot. Radnor writes with insight and optimism and somehow manages to raise questions of youth, morality and mortality without becoming overly preachy or cloying. His idea that the right music can transform a landscape or add divinity to the mundane was beautiful. I did feel at times that the film almost veered into the schmaltzy and self-indulgent, but the strong performances from the central characters managed to keep the film from becoming overly sentimental. Radnor may have alienated a more cynical audience with his heart-on-sleeve awareness of his main characters, however, Liberal Arts appealed to my inner romantic and his ideas resonated with me. This will obviously not be the case for everyone; some may not relate to Jesse’s conflict between hope, the innocence of youth and the reality of age, however this nostalgic look at college and of all that follows was a confident and assured second directorial outing for Radnor.