08 June 2016

Liberal Arts (starring Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen)

I don’t think I had come across any of the actors in this film, so I think it must have been one of the many that Amazon recommended to me, based on my previous wishlist and reviewed DVDs. The blurb sounded interesting, so I put it on my list, and was delighted to be given it for my recent birthday. Last night our twenty-something son suggested that the three of us watch it together.

‘Liberal Arts’ is mostly based on a university campus in the United States. We first meet the newly-single Jesse (Josh Radnor) who is in his mid-thirties, and evidently an academic type. He doesn’t do well with practical details, as is amply demonstrated in the first scene. He seems to find books more interesting than people, He’s wondering what to do with the rest of his life, and why everything goes wrong when he gets an unexpected phone call from Peter (Richard Jenkins), one of the professors he particularly admired when he was an undergraduate, asking him if he would say a few words at his retiring banquet.

The story moves quite slowly at first, but that sets the pace nicely for a character-based story which doesn’t have a great deal of plot. That suited us ideally; we wanted something undemanding and light, and this more than adequately served its purpose. Jesse spends time chatting with Peter and some friends of his, including their 19-year-old daughter Zibby (Elizabeth Coleman) who is mature for her years, and finds herself very much attracted to Jesse. She persuades him to start listening to classical music, and then they begin a correspondence using pen and paper…

It could have been a predictable rom-com so we were pleased that in fact it wasn’t; unusually for modern films, moral issues were considered, and the romance as such is quite low-key. It’s a pity there had to be an intimate bedroom scene (nothing overt, though, and with a couple of unexpected great lines) but there are many subplots: Jesse finds himself mentor to a geeky intellectual, and befriended by a red-hatted bohemian, as well as having lengthy discussions with both Zibby and Peter.

Our favourite scene was the one where Jesse tells Zibby exactly what he had thought of the first of the Twilight series of books, after being persuaded that it was unfair to judge without reading it himself. We loved the way that most of the characters, one way or another, were readers and related through books.

Recommended to anyone who likes gentle, mildly intellectual character-based stories with great acting. Much of it felt so real that I sometimes forgot that it was entirely fictional. But if your taste runs towards thrillers or fast action films, then you might find this slow-moving and possibly even a bit dull.

The rating is 12 which seems fair; it wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone under the age of about fifteen or sixteen anyway. There are plenty of suggestive comments but no nudity; minor bad language, but nothing major; no violence at all.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

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