Liberal Arts – Yet another late contenda’ for my favorite movie of 2012! – Directed by Josh Radnor

220px-Liberal_Arts_FilmPoster Here’s another movie I hadn’t really heard of until I started flipping through the indie movies section on demand, and remembered I had a coupon for a free movie. I’m not a really big fan of Josh Radnor, to be totally honest with you. I think How I Met Your Mother is a decent, passable show at best, but its certainly HIGHLY over rated and doesn’t deserve all the popularity it has these days. It should have ended seasons ago, it’s mostly uninspired stuff that has been done better with shows like Friends, which was obviously what the show tried to copy. So if this movie didn’t have Elizabeth Olsen’s name attached to it, I would have easily passed on this one. Much like Randy Quaid is the GOOD Quaid, Elizabeth Olsen is the GOOD Olsen, yes she’s related to those pill-popping too skinny untalented Olsen sisters we don’t hear too much about anymore (thank god). Surprisingly, she has been good in every movie that I’ve seen her in so far. Now, two of those movies I linked you to there were, how you say, not so good. Silent House in particular wasn’t all that special, but her performance was the best part, just like in the incredibly odd but you should probably see anyways Martha Marcy May Marlene. The other one with the super dumb name – Peace Love and MISunderstanding, see what they did there? Ha ha! A play on words! Everyone laugh! was only decent because of her and yet another actress that I love, Catherine Keener. But the bottom line here is, kid’s got talent. Like, a lot of it. Like, the best young person to come along in movies since Carey Mulligan was in An Education a couple years ago. Them’s big words, and if you haven’t already seen that movie, first of all shame on you, and second, as per usual, for gods sake, turn this review off this lesser movie and go rent that first. It was one of the best movies of 2009, and she got compared to Aubrey Hepburn often in the reviews for that movie. AUDREY HEPBURN people! If you don’t know who she is or at least know of her legacy, then I will say GOOD DAY to you sir!

downloaded That’s Elizabeth, and yes, she’s very pretty. But with her in movies, it’s a lot more than that…well, ‘cept maybe for Silent House where she wears a low cut tanktop the entire movie and the camera is often centered on her boobs. But hey, I’m not the director, I didn’t do it! He just knew he had a kinda lame story so he was workin with what he had. Elizabeth is way more than just someone who can fill out a tanktop however, and this movie showcases her talent the best of all her films so far. She plays an entirely too smart 19 year old named um…Zibby. Yeah, for real, that’s her name. Zibby. Zib Zab. But, moving on, she meets Jesse, who is 35 and is working rather unhappily in New York, when he comes to Ohio to honor his favorite professor who is retiring, played by Richard Jenkins. Now, if Elizabeth’s name on the cover wouldn’t have quite sold me, it was Jenkin’s name that ultimately did. This guy can do no wrong. He was absolutely meant to play a role like this, a mentor/advisor role to Radnor’s character, because man, just look at the guy. He just has that trustworthy, down-to-earth face that makes you want to be his friend. Every role I’ve seen him is fantastic, from the hilarious turn he had in Cabin In The Woods (another one of my favorite movies from this year, by the way), to yet another movie that is far better than this one, called The Visitor. Hell, he is even great in his bit part in the (I’ll even say, underrated) movie Friends With Benefits.  The Visitor was where I first noticed this excellent actor, and, like An Education, it is also a far superior movie to this one. So Jenkins plays the retiring professor, and of course, every scene he is in is fantastic, particularly when the plot gets going and he again tries to fulfill the mentor role with Jesse.

14LIBERAL_SPAN-articleLarge So this movie could easily fall into the typical ol’ bag of older dude falls for a girl who is too young, gets some sort of life revelation from banging her, they are better or worse off in the end, and scene. This movie doesn’t go that route, and that’s why I call it one of the best of 2012. It takes some unexpected turns with this story that we have probably all seen before, and that is why it’s memorable, and you should check it out. So Jesse meets Zib Zab because her parents are good friends of Professor Hoberg (Jenkins), and it’s immediate from the start they have a connection – but we aren’t given the traditional “meetcute” here, which is good. They just happen to have a decent talk over dinner. I also have to mention someone else in this movie, who also steals the two scenes he is in – Zac Efron and his character, Nat. Now, I like this guy, to be honest with you. People be hatin’ on my boy Efron, but Charlie St. Cloud wasn’t a half bad movie at all, and he is absolutely hilarious as the…I don’t even know what to call him. He seems like a big pothead, some weirdo that just hangs out on benches late at night, and Jesse happens to stumble upon him as he’s wandering campus, but he only drinks water. He’s so much more than a stereotypical pothead or “mystical” figure in a movie, even Jesse himself proclaims “I’m not even sure if you are real” later on, and hell, I’m not even sure if he was. But he steals every scene he is in, and I’d even say this is his best role yet – even though he’s only around for about 10 minutes. So it is Nat that gets Jesse to a college party where he, of course, stumbles on Zib Zab again, and the friendship is on.

But it isn’t a romance right away, not at all. They have a lot to talk about, they are both passionate about a lot of things, him mostly books, her mostly music because of this “great music survey class I took last summer”. Jesse, much like many of us, myself very much included, is still 19 at heart. Jenkins’ character flat out says that he is later in the movie. My Dad has told me this before as well. While we are “grown-up”, we never really want to become adults, it just happens. So of course Jesse has a natural attraction to Zib Zab, and not just because she’s beautiful either – this is another thing that the movie does well that you might not expect. Their attraction increases because of the letters they write to each other. Zibble Zib decides to give him a mixtape (HA!) for his trip back to New York and her address, and demands that she write him a handwritten letter. This, frankly, is awesome. I used to have a penpal or two in my day and I’ll admit it, in this technological age no one does stuff like this anymore, we text or facebook message or whatever, and sure that’s all very nice and convenient, but it’s also very impersonal. I don’t think a single text was sent in this movie. And I love that about it. The scenes with the letters they are writing are brilliant, yes its a montage, no I didn’t mind because it’s on such a higher level than most romantic comedies – though I don’t even consider this movie one of those. Their discussion on music is great, and makes me miss the great conversations that I used to have with some people, and maybe the ones that I try to force on others – of course things like this don’t often happen like they do in the movies, but I loved it anyways.

Liberal_Arts So these letters escalate and eventually it is (naturally, being that she is 19 years old) Zibbits that decides to make the first move, and he is on the road to see her again. Things take quite an unexpected turn here, at least they did for me – and this is why I will still think about this movie days later. I actually hesitate to throw down a gauntlet such as this – but parts of this movie actually reminded me of Lost In Translation. I’m not sure if it’s possible for me to throw down a bigger gauntlet (man, wish I had a pair of gauntlets, how sweet would that be, I mean seriously) than that, because that is my favorite movie of all time. #1, no other contenders. This movie isn’t on that caliber – but damn if it doesn’t make a good case to be compared to it. Older man strikes up an unlikely friendship with a whip-smart (always loved that term) younger girl, could be romance, could be not. The way this movie could have gone were it to fall into cliche and the way it ultimately does is really a thing to behold. I’m not going to reveal much more, hell I might have already revealed too much already, but I will say that what happens between these two is exactly what should be, and while the movie hangs on a little too long toward the end, I think it could have clocked in at about 85 minutes instead of 92 – it doesn’t hang on like, Return of The King style where it ends 656 different times, but still, some stuff that happens at the very end is unnecessary. But the resolution between these two does not, it is excellent.

Liberal+Arts+Portraits+2012+Sundance+Film+5qBrVuHF1Lsl I’m gushing a little bit about this one and am close to being in ramble territory, but a few more things – that’s my boy Jenkins by the way, I put him on here cuz man, how could you not trust that face? You tell me you don’t want to be buds with that guy and play some golf, he just rules. But the supporting cast in this movie it consists of the great Allison Janney, who has a scene that needs to be seen to be believe with Radnor in the latter half of the movie, and John Magaro, who I had never heard of before this movie. He plays Dean, a troubled kid who could have, very easily, been what Jesse became in college. He loves the same books that Jesse does, and he is obviously a romantic that finds so much passion in literature. The scenes with these two are almost pointless, to be honest. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. In fact, Dean becomes a maguffin toward the very end, but we don’t care, because the lines that Jesse has with these two are excellent, and, much like another classic from this year, Perks of Being a Wallflower, some of it really makes you think. This is not Red Dawn, this is not escapist fun, this is a movie that really makes you think about things. And just like we need the movies where stuff blows up real good, we probably need movies like this even more.

I haven’t even gotten to some of the other themes being kicked around in this movie, particularly the idea of having a deep love for books, music, just, ART, man. Radnor obviously has a soft spot for a good book, a good piece of music, etc. He directed AND wrote this bad boy, so there has to be shades of him in here. Just, just watch it man. Especially if you are a book nerd much like myself, if you’ve ever had grand dreams of becoming a writer, if you want to be the next Hemmingway (minus the committing suicide part…actually hell even if you want to include this part, watch this movie, maybe it’ll cheer you up and change your mind), if there is something in life that you are truly passionate about in life, then just check this movie out. It’s a thinker, and it’s a damn good one at that.

 

The verdict – 4-stars

 

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