“Liberal Arts” Is
About Growing Up
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
My wife and I are hooked on the TV comedy “How I Met Your Mother,” the ongoing misadventures of five friends in New York City. The story is told from the viewpoint of Ted, a guy recounting to his kids how he, well, you know.
Ted is played by Josh Radnor, all 167 episodes so far.
We’ve watched the careers of his costars soar. Jason Segel (Marshall) has had an active film career, even resurrecting “The Muppets” franchise. Neil Patrick Harris (Barney) after his youthful success as “Doogie Howser, M.D.” went on to do movies like “The Smurfs” as well as hosting the Grammys and Tonys. Colby Smothers (Robin) turned up as a leather-clad S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in “Marvel’s Avengers” and is slated for sequels. Alyson Hannigan was already a star, having made her name as the Band Camp Girl in those raunchy “American Pie” comedies.
But what about poor Josh? Was he destined to be the perpetual loser like his character Ted?
After a career on so-so TV shows (not counting the brilliant “How I Met Your Mother),” our boy Josh Radnor seems to have finally graduated to the movies. He wrote, directed, and stars in a funny film called “Liberal Arts.”
“Liberal Arts” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
In it, we find thirtysomething Jesse Fisher (Radnor) returning to his alma mater for an old prof’s retirement party, only to fall for a peppy, wacky student known as Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen).
Lizzie, of course, is the talented younger sister of the Olsen Twins. Her breakout role was “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
“What’s so great about Lizzie is there’s this great kind of mash-up of elements with her,” says Radnor, putting on his director’s hat. “She’s very sophisticated, she’s got kind of an old soul, poetic quality to her, but at the same time, every once in awhile, she’ll remind you that she’s a young person. She’s got this adolescent goofiness that pokes out at points.”
As one moviegoer described “Liberal Arts”: “It’s is a small, endearing film about idealism, the reality of life, the complicated nature of aging, and the beauty of experience.” Another called it “Lyrical.” And still another observed the film’s message as being, “No matter how old you get, you still have more growing to do.”
Radnor admits that Jesse Fisher is grappling with some of the same arrested development as his "HIMYM" character. “I have to play it with some naiveté,” he says.
“This is not a pro-dating-college-students-when-you’re-too-old-to-do-that movie,” he hastens to explain. “Maybe it’s a matter of kind of adjusting to whatever age you are and realizing that’s perfect.”
“Liberal Arts” is a follow up to his 2010 film “Happythankyoumoreplease,” about a thirtysomething guy feeling stuck with his life.
“Liberal Arts” is Radnor’s way of getting unstuck. As he puts it, “Maybe one of the reasons I wrote the movie was to allow myself to grow up, or to retire some of the old thoughts or parts of my personality that were no longer all that useful. Maybe it’s a matter of kind of adjusting to whatever age you are and realizing that’s perfect.”
Filmed at Josh Radnor’s real-life alma mater, Kenyon College in Ohio, the film had a sense of déjà vu for him. While at Kenyon he won the Paul Newman award from the theater department. (Newman was a grad from there too.)
What was it like to be back on campus after 15 years? He says, “The only thing making me feel old would have been the Kenyon interns working on the movie.” He adds, “They were adorable, right?”
“They were my age,” replies 23-year-old Elizabeth Olsen. “I can’t call them adorable.”
“I’ve never felt older than right now in this moment,” groans 38-year-old Radnor.
And so it goes, on-screen and off.
“The movie is really kind of sweet and earnest, in a time where it seems like cynicism reigns supreme,” shrugs Josh Radnor. “That’s how I see the world.”