Liberal Arts is a comedy. But when a movie opens with a quote from Ecclesiastes , you’d be forgiven for expecting a brow-furrowing drama laden with hefty intentions…
How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor’s second movie as writer/director/actor (after 2010’s Happythankyoumoreplease ) is a cute, funny indie charmer, with a twist of sadcore wit that’s just slightly too self-conscious.
Radnor plays a thirtysomething literature-lover who’s been drifting through his adult life ever since graduating in English with a history minor.
But a return to university leads to a meet-cute with 19-year-old student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who triggers romance, nostalgia and his late-bloom coming-of-age.
She’s 19. He’s 35.
He’s done the maths. And Radnor’s campus romcom is full of characters who feel nudged from their niche: adults who wish they were back at uni and students who wish they were out in the world.
It’s witty and heartfelt but – perhaps a hangover from Radnor’s sitcom style – too much of the dialogue feels written down and read out rather than spur-of-the- moment spoken.
Radnor’s an easy actor to watch, mind, although not a patch on his glowing co-star.
Almost too good to be true, Olsen’s the girl that shy, bookish guys only really meet in the movies.
Elsewhere, Zac Efron can’t do much as a lazily written slacker full of equally meaningless life mantras.
But there’s a much-needed pulse of reality from reluctant retiree Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney as an English professor who’s sick of “effete, over-articulate manboys”.
Lines – and performances – like that help Radnor avoid the same inertia affecting his character.