Josh Radnor – who acts in, directs and writes LIBERAL ARTS – plays an admissions officer in an unnamed urban university in New York City who revisits his alma mater, a liberals arts college in Ohio, also nameless, to deliver a tribute at the retirement dinner for a favorite professor. Before he leaves, we see that he is frustrated in both love and career and take special note of his encounters with a bookstore clerk played by Elizabeth Reaser.
Okay, we think, that’s whom he’ll end up with; the determined non-chemistry between them is too obvious for it to be otherwise. While in Ohio, he has an opportunity for much soul-searching on the importance of art and literature in his life, and smites an attractive undergraduate theater major, played by Elizabeth Olsen, with whom he strikes up a correspondence. There will be a return to the college for a visit, of course, and unanticipated tensions between them (including on the subject of the literary value of the Twilight books, which he disdains), to say nothing of an unexpected turn of affairs involving a female professor. On his return to the city the second time, he wanders into the bookstore where the character played by the other Elizabeth works, and the denouement is about as one would expect.
The pleasures of this film are modest, but they are real. Certain nostalgias are invoked – if there are three more nostalgic milieux than academia, the theater, and bookselling, I do not know what they are, and I am particularly susceptible for having worked in all three. The cast is terribly appealing. I am always glad to see Reaser in something other than the Twilight movies – her presence in the film is a sly wink, given the lead character’s low opinion of the franchise. I suppose I liked LIBERAL ARTS in the way I like any sort of earnest and unpretentious endeavor, but also as I might enjoy a decent academic novel, in that it hits home now and then, with this line or that, and puts me in the comfort zone that familiarity provides.
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