Entertainment Movies

Entertainment Entertainment Movies

'Liberal Arts' review: A personal, thoughtful look at (post-) college life from Ted Mosby--I mean, Josh Radnor

***1/2 (out of four)

The line between Josh Radnor and his “How I Met Your Mother” character Ted Mosby continues to disintegrate.

In “Liberal Arts,” which marks a big step up from Radnor’s writing-directing debut “Happythankyoumoreplease,” Radnor plays Jesse, who has more than a little in common with Ted. He’s a New York resident with ties to Ohio (like Radnor himself). He’s incredibly judgmental in his tastes, which skew a bit snobby. And he’s constantly off balance regarding his work and love life, which both unfold in the context of a sense that he’s not in the place he’s supposed to be by this age.

Yet Radnor doesn’t allow “Liberal Arts” to turn into a quirky male fantasy as 35-year-old Jesse bonds with a 19-year-old college sophomore named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). Years ago, Professor Peter Hoberg (always-great Chicago native Richard Jenkins) was Zibby’s mom’s camp counselor. Now Jesse has returned from his work in New York college admissions to his Ohio alma mater to support Peter as he retires after 37 years. The occasion’s not especially happy; Peter’s speech quickly goes from amusingly self-deprecating to sad. The visit gets much sunnier as Jesse and Zibby bond, finding in each other kindred spirits separated in age by 16 years.

Radnor’s far from the first writer-director to examine the romanticism of youth or feeling younger than your birth certificate indicates you are. In “Liberal Arts,” he’s sweetly honest about the college experience and Jesse’s emotionally dangerous level of nostalgia. Despite Radnor’s affinity for contrived names (in “Happythankyoumoreplease” it was Kate Mara’s character, Mississippi), Zibby never seems contrived herself. Olsen’s fantastic in the role, making Zibby excitable, passionate, deceptively mature yet not exactly fully formed. When a very amusing hippie (Zac Efron) acts as wingman for Jesse and encourages a coffee date with Zibby, Jesse suggests 9 a.m. She counters with 11:30 a.m. She shows up late smelling of beer, drinks his coffee and then pukes in the bathroom. The mutual infatuation develops in spite of the fact Jesse probably hasn’t been drunk-sick in a decade.

The film captures the intellectual and romantic sensibilities of college while admitting students’ shortsightedness. (I prefer it to the good-but-not-great “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” whose portrait of high school better convinces on the page.) Rather than deliver another cutesy movie in which everyone exists on a similar plane, Radnor’s opened himself up to different perspectives and how insufferable an extended existence of collegiate over-analysis can be. This is also a movie about one man’s relationship with art—particularly books and music—and the impact that has on a vulnerable mind. Sometimes you want high culture; sometimes you want trash. “Liberal Arts” teaches the merits of both in a life lived in the present, appreciative of the past.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U



Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.


Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Q&A: 'Liberal Arts' star/writer/director Josh Radnor

    Q&A: 'Liberal Arts' star/writer/director Josh Radnor

    Asked what aspects of his “How I Met Your Mother” character he enjoyed exploring last season, Josh Radnor takes a mulligan. Outside of reconnecting with Victoria (Ashley Williams), Radnor can’t remember what happened to Ted.

  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

  • PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    These adorable pups are on the loose looking for a place to call home. They have a warrant out for their arrest. Their crime? Being irresistibly cute and cuddly. If you're interested in adopting any of these dogs, please visit www.pawschicago.org for more information.

  • Wabash Lights exceeds Kickstarter goal, hopes to begin test this fall

    Wabash Lights exceeds Kickstarter goal, hopes to begin test this fall

    The designers of an ambitious plan to install colorful LED lights on the underside of the Wabash Avenue "L" tracks raised almost $60,000 in a Kickstarter campaign that will allow them to move forward with a test of the project.