A casual, breezy drama/comedy from writer/director/star Josh Radnor, “Liberal Arts” is a bit of an odd bird: it’s an exploration of the pre-midlife crisis.
Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor) is in his mid-30s, living in New York City. He’s by all accounts an intelligent, at least moderately successful single man, but feels overwhelmed by the dreariness of life, the endless parties and laundry and bills, and wonders what happened to all of his dreams.
When he gets a call from one of his old teachers (Richard Jenkins, “Cabin in the Woods”) asking him to come to his retirement party, Jesse travels to Ohio to reconnect with the life he left behind.
There he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olson), a flighty, pretty sophomore who gives Jesse flashbacks of the way he used to be, and a host of characters who are experiencing the same thing Jesse is, leaving him wondering why they are lamenting what should be the best time of their lives.
Face it: this isn’t the kind of movie that is changing the world, but as indie drama-comedies go, this one is pretty engaging and light-hearted. Radnor does a good job of infusing likability and life into what could have been a dreary, selfish guy whining about the success his character enjoys. Instead he fills Jesse with general, ants-marching malaise and allows him a bit of sense of humor about life, and a willingness to help others.
Olson continues to build a strong resume for herself, coming virtually out of nowhere to best her still-more famous, but resoundingly less talented sisters. She continues to be wonderful here, flashing the immaturity of her age but still teaching the older man a little something about enjoying where you are at life.
Jenkins is fantastic as usual, but I wish I’d had more of a chance to get to know Allison Janney’s grousing, cynical prof whom Jesse seems to always bump into at inopportune times.
“Liberal Arts” isn’t going to change your life, but it is a pleasing diversion that will give you a warm smile or two and a gentle reminder to appreciate wherever you are in life.