The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Liberal Arts | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Liberal Arts

Directed by: Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney, Kate Burton

Thirty-something Radnor returns to his old college to honor retiring professor Jenkins. Once there he succumbs to nostalgia and embarks on a relationship with student Olsen.
There are two types of people who enroll in college; those who do so to invest in their future by developing skills and acquiring qualifications, and those who simply want to prolong their entry into the real world by a few years. Those belonging to the latter will be the most likely to submit to the charms of Radnor's film, a thinking man's version of the Rodney Dangerfield comedy "Back to School".
By portraying himself as irresistible to women (practically every female character hits on him at some point), Radnor treads a precarious path. Fortunately he's an amiable presence and unlike the male protagonists of movies like "The Brothers MacMullen" he doesn't complain about the fact that women are falling at his feet. Female viewers may look on him a tad more harshly but the fact is if he hadn't written the script himself it wouldn't be an issue so why make it one? That's not the only tightrope act Radnor performs. In many other hands his character might come across as pretentious but Radnor wisely avoids any cultural name-dropping. When he speaks enthusiastically about his favorite novel he never actually mentions it's title, therefore avoiding alienating a fraction of his audience.
The May to December romance he carries on with Olsen is one of the more realistic depictions we've had. Anyone who ever dated a college age girl will raise a smile at the scenarios portrayed. Particularly on the nose is a scene where a well-intending Olsen burns a CD of what she calls "obscure baroque music" for Radnor which turns out to be a collection of the most cliched pieces of classical music imaginable. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, Radnor plays along by writing her a letter in which he purports to have had his life changed by her selections "How about that Brandenburg Concerto?".
Cliches of romantic comedies are avoided, there's no outrageous gesture of affection in a public area, no cartoon villain rivaling Radnor for his affections. All the characters are likable, even Janney's bitchy and cynical English Professor. Jenkins gets our sympathies as the Professor who confesses to never feeling any older than nineteen and struggles to maintain a young mind in an aging body. Olsen is undoubtedly the best actress of her generation and burns the screen with her vitality. Efron isn't taken seriously by film snobs because he came from a background in musicals and I admit this is my first exposure to him but here at least he possesses a lot of charisma, playing the sort of character you would normally want to throttle.
Should you wish to avoid the real world for ninety-something minutes you could do worse than enrolling yourself in "Liberal Arts".