The Old College Try

Clever dialogue can't rescue precious Liberal Arts

There's a good local hook to Liberal Arts, the new indie flick written and directed by How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor (happythankyoumoreplease). Radnor was born in Columbus and attended Kenyon College, where he excelled as a theater major. As a result, Liberal Arts, which Radnor filmed on the Kenyon campus, is a love letter of sorts to his alma mater. And, like many love letters of a highly personal nature, this movie, which opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, just doesn't translate for someone who hasn't been through the same experience.

The plot centers on Jesse (Radnor), a thirtysomething who just hasn't found himself in New York City, where he moved after graduating from Kenyon College. He holds down a desk job in college admissions that barely pays the bills. He's got so little going on, in fact, that when his college professor (Richard Jenkins) invites him to attend his retirement dinner back at Kenyon College, he takes him up on the offer without even having to check his schedule.

While at Kenyon, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), an attractive young theater student who has a deep appreciation for improvisation and classical music. Impressed by her old-fashioned values (she refers to him as her "gentleman caller"), he's somewhat smitten despite the years separating them. (Doing the math, Jesse realizes that when he was 19, Zibby was 3.) Before he heads back to NYC, she gives him a mix CD and asks him to write her using pen, paper and his witty observations.

They correspond regularly, sharing philosophical thoughts, until Zibby invites Jesse back to Kenyon for what promises to be a weekend of romance. There's some awkwardness to their initial attempts to connect in person, and they argue over the artistic merit of teen vampire stories. It's all a little precious, and the fact that the characters' slow-moving journeys to self-awareness and maturity are littered with literary references and underdeveloped characters doesn't help matters.

Though filled with clever dialogue delivered by talented actors (Allison Janney has a nice turn as a jaded English professor), Liberal Arts ultimately comes across as pretentious and a bit boring.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & Stories articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.