Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 DIFF Movie Review - LIBERAL ARTS

Directed by: Josh Radnor
Written by: Josh Radnor
Starring: Josh Radnor, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Olsen, Allison Janney
Synopsis: When his favorite college professor asks him to speak during his retirement dinner, a 35 year old gladly goes back to his college town and develops a relationship with a 19 year old.

There are times when esteemed movie critics, including one Roger Ebert, fall into the trap of critiquing a movie's sense of morality instead of the movie itself. Mind you, I don't feel I am anywhere near adequate to talk some crap on Ebert, but we all do this because we are such subjective creatures. That being said, I was afraid that somehow, after watching LIBERAL ARTS, I would write one of those types of reviews.

But that would be disingenuous. I tried hard to detach my disgust at the plot, where a 35 year old man develops a more than a little friendly relationship with a 19 year old, and tried to see the movie for what it was. Thankfully, it was a very enjoyable movie. The dialogue is snappy without being gimmicky. Even though as I stated before that Josh Radnor will never play dudes that have their shit together, everybody was damn impressive in their roles. As and added bonus, this is the second movie I have seen with Richard Jenkins in the same day, and he continues to be the highlight of the each of the movies for me. 

What impresses me the most was that this was a very personal tale that takes a jab at a whole generation. This is of course going off the assumption that every dude that has ever left college in the last ten years feels completely lost and directionless in life. I'm not sure, maybe I'm relating a little bit here, but having just gone back to my college town for an extended period of time, and by that I mean a weekend, I knew what the Radnor's Jesse felt, and I could see part of his character's motivation myself. It's not pretty. I mean, what sort of adult can't get over keg stands and "philosophical" discussion that mostly occurred  when you were stoned? And yet, when I was in the middle of my return, I wanted to move back, but that I know that's not the way to go "in life", whereas Jessie just was looking for an excuse to come back. 

A big and obvious reason for that was Elizabeth Olsen's Zibby who for all senses and purposes makes him feel alive like he hasn't felt in a long time. Think GARDEN STATE with a slightly creepier angle. There was a section where Zibby and Jesse are writing hand written letters, because of course, why wouldn't a whimsical girl love hand written letters? And I was pretty much hating the dialogue, but when I realized how subtly and intelligently it not only foreshadowed conflicts, but shows the preoccupations and tells more about the characters than what you are lead to believe. Of course the way that people talk and why we say things make up a huge portion of our personality and can give us a peak into our inner insecurities, but this was better than it had any right to be, and was actually genius when I was contemplating back on the movie.

What is disguised as a comedy about a really creepy dude actually turns out to be a commentary on our expectations of life after college and the disappointments that come afterwards. While there are plenty of very depressing scenes including what can only be described as the "least romantic night ever", the message is hopeful that everything is okay, always will be, but it's just getting there that sucks. 

Richard Jenkins' Professor Hoberg retiring after so many years is a very interesting micro version of Jesse's own struggles, which was very appropriate since the only reason he meet Zibby was because he was retiring. Ultimately, the story ends up about being one thing: you never feel like an adult even when you're of retirement age, and you're just trying to make sure that you are trying to fake it as well as you can. On the flip side, there is another professor character who knows exactly what she wants, and I wondered what points were being made about the way that men and women handle aging and maturity? If we're going off the movie, then men apparently never stop being confused, and women while a little reckless in a younger age, will eventually become super bad-asses that know what's up. 

Josh Radnor has shown increasing skill in his writing and in his direction since HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE. If LIBERAL ARTS is any indication of where he will go and just like his characters, if he chooses not to stay trapped by this GARDEN STATE-esque sub genre that is becoming increasingly popular, then he will have a damn good career after HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER ends.

LIBERAL ARTS plays again on Friday, April 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Angelika 6 theater. 

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