Sunday, 9 December 2012
FILM REVIEW: LIBERAL ARTS
Icon Film Distribution
If school was supposed to be the best years of your life, than for an A-grade education junky like myself, university could only be bigger and better, right? In my case, not so. With a mere 12 hours of class a week and no partaking in extracurricular activities – no sex, drugs and rock n roll for this off campus co-ed – my college experience was one of disappointment.
But not so for Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor), where college – which saw him indulge more so in literary classics than class A drugs – was indeed the time of his life. The 30-something New York admissions officer now longs for the days when he could sit around doing nothing but reading books and discussing ideas (nobody does that in the real world, he laments).
So when he's invited to return to his alma mater to attend the retirement dinner of one of his favourite professors, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), Jesse jumps at the chance, hire car-ing it to Ohio. And Jesse is instantly as happy as a kid in a candy store when he's once more walking (gambolling even) the green, leafy campus of Kenyon College.
He gets even more of a spring in his step when he's introduced to Zibby (a radiant Elizabeth Olson), the daughter of Peter's friends and a current student. Despite the 16-year age gap, there's chemistry between the two and after a couple of dates over the course of the weekend, Jesse and Zibby agree to write handwritten letters to each other.
It's at about this point – with Jesse and Zibby reading aloud each other's letters discussing their love of all things literary to the soundtrack of a mixed CD of classical music Zibby compiled for Jesse's enjoyment and enlightenment – that Liberal Arts, also penned and directed by Radnor, is in danger of disappearing up its own smugness.
I would hate to think that my resistance to Liberal Arts (I've now seen it twice, and I liked it a little more on second viewing) was due to the presence of characters who actually discussed things – books, music, ideas – rather than merely saying (inane) things which progressed the plot from Point A to Point B, for films about adults – for adults – are rare.
But Radnor's film, for all its intellectualizing, is more about a man-child stuck in the past; he's grown up but he hasn't moved on. The film's best moment comes when Jesse is given a post-coital dressing down by Professor Fairfield (Allison Janney), the Romantics professor whose class Jesse adored in his time at Kenyon, but who calls bullshit on his romantic notions about literature and life.
Kudos to Radnor for the writing but all power to Janney for making the words zing and sting. Like Jenkins (who can do pathos and gravitas as easily as breathe), Janney's mere presence can enliven any film, and here she (and credit to Radnor) successfully lets some air out of the smug mobile's tyres.
And were it not for Janney (and Olsen and Jenkins), Liberals Arts would not earn its passing grade.