Thanks to fantastic performances from the entire crew, Elizabeth Olsen in particular is incredible, and a limited theatrical run, Liberal Arts is one of the best hidden gems of 2012 and is worth at least a rental.
Genre(s): Drama, Comedy, Romance
MPI Media Group | PG13 – 97 min. – $29.98 | December 18, 2012
Directed by: Josh Radnor
Writer(s): Josh Radnor (written by)
Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magard, Elizabeth Reaser
Theatrical Release Date: September14, 2012 (limited)
Features: Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.35
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Disc Size: 20.2 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 4.0/5
Josh Radnor for many is known for his role on the long-running series “How I Met Your Mother”, a show I’ve never seen, but for me since the release of the 2010 ensemble comedy-drama Happythankyoumoreplease, I’ve become a fan of the actor, writer & director. His latest is Liberal Arts, a coming-of-middle-age comedy-drama which has a few problems with the story, yet thanks to a well written screenplay and great performances from the cast, it’s one of the surprise gems of 2012.
The story Jesse Fisher (JOSH RADNOR), a bored individual living in bustling New York City working a tedious and unfulfilling job in college admissions, buries much of his time in books, and whose latest relationship has come to a bitter end. One morning he receives a call to attend the retirement party of Professor Peter Hoberg (RICHARD JENNINGS) at his Alma mater in Ohio, and with nothing to do, he accepts.
Being afraid to fly, he rents a car and travels to Ohio, is greeted by old friends of Hoberg and together they attend a lunch including their 19-year-old daughter Zibby (ELIZABETH OLSEN) majoring in improv theater and its infatuation at first sight for Jesse. Later that night Jesse attends Hoberg’s retirement “party”, which is more of a dour and awkward affair, after which Jesse decides to take a stroll through campus coming across the weird/eccentric Nat (ZAC EFRON) who provides some life nuggets and he convinces Jesse to attend a college party where, wouldn’t you know it, he runs into Zibby. The two make a coffee appointment for the morning.
The next day Jesse goes to the coffee joint where he meets college student Dean (JOHN MAGARO) who just so happens to be reading one of Jesse’s favorite books. We learn that Dean is as smart as they come but also has some emotional issues that blew up the semester before. In any case, Jesse and Zibby eventually meet up and spend the day walking around campus together, talking about college and life in general. Before you know, their time is over and Jesse must return back to his old life in New York but not before Zibby gives him a mix CD of some classic music (one of the topics they covered earlier) and her number. The two also swap addresses and quickly become handwritten pen pals and exchange letters over the months continuing on their conversations. At this point, for a few scenes, the movie goes into You’ve Got Mail territory as we go into voice over mode where the two speak back and forth through the letters.
Eventually, Jesse can’t stand to stay away any longer and drives back to Ohio just to see Zibby and as one might expect, their relationship takes another step into romance but when it comes to the sex, and the fact Zibby admission that she’s a virgin, he cannot go through with it. When faced with that decision, it’s at this point where Jesse realizes he has to grow up while Zibby, being an old soul, needs to slow down and get back to being a 19-year-old college student.
Liberal Arts is the second film from Josh Radnor, following Happythankyoumoreplease and another successful one. Having never seen an episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, I am mostly unfamiliar with Radnor or his character on the series so while, from what I’ve read, he is apparently basically playing the same sort of character, I still found him charming. What I especially enjoyed is that even when the situations can be a tad unrealistic, there is a kind of genuine nature behind him that you can’t help but toss them aside.
For her part, Elizabeth Olsen continues to grow tackling more rounded rolls and forming a fan base with each new independent film she puts on her resume. Although I think she was a bit more impressive in Martha Marcy May Marlene, even when the script goes off kilter at the end (in hindsight, I did love it), Olsen has an undeniable onscreen presence, so much that I wish she were the main character and took the majority of screen time.
The supporting cast, in their limited roles, is also notable. Richard Jenkins has a small part but similar to Olsen, I actually wouldn’t have minded seeing more from him and his character, that’s just the on-screen charisma he brings every time. Allison Janney appears for only 10-minutes but gets a great scene and interaction with Radnor and Zac Efron is nearly unrecognizable in a character who I had thought only existed in cinema but then recalled my own days in college at the University of Oregon and realized… it’s completely reasonable someone like him could be real. It’s a nice small part of Efron.
On the whole, Liberal Arts is hardly a perfect flick but it does hit all the right notes and the entire cast give amazing performances. When watching the interactions between Radnor and Olsen, in a way they reminded me of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation and in a similar way, I wouldn’t have minded if this film was longer as I wanted to spend more time with both characters. Unfortunately due to an extremely limited theatrical release – 31 theaters at its widest release and a mere $319k gross – this is truly one of the great gems of 2012 and well worth checking out.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.25/5
Audio Commentary – Actor/Writer/Director Josh Radnor and Producer Jesse Hara join together for a light-hearted but informative commentary as they talk about different aspects from shooting locations, the story, actors, etc.
Deleted Scenes (16:30; SD) includes just some extra character moments, and a side story involving one of Jesse’s friends, which serves only lengthen the movie but doesn’t move the story forward.
Featurette (2:06; HD) – Not sure why this is called a “featurette” as it’s an EPK item with minimal behind-the-scenes footage set in between footage from the trailer.
Theatrical Trailer (2:30; HD)
Previews – Your Sister’s Sister, Burning Man, Why Stop Now, About Cherry
VIDEO – 4.5/5
MPI releases Liberal Arts onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio and 1080p high-definition transfer. Shot using an RED digital camera, the film is obviously clean and free of many flaws yet still maintains great levels of detail throughout. The color array also looks well balanced without being blown out or oversaturated.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t anything special, but still effective enough. Given the entire movie is dialogue driven with some of Ben Toth’s score helping round out this lossless track. Most of the audio comes out of the center and front channels with the rear speakers being used for ambient noises, though it is minimal.
OVERALL – 3.75/5
Overall, thanks to fantastic performances from the entire crew, Elizabeth Olsen in particular is incredible, and a limited theatrical run, Liberal Arts is one of the best hidden gems of 2012 and is worth at least a rental. The Blu-ray has good video/audio transfers but the features are on the disappointing side with a short EPK featurette, though the commentary is good.