Liberal Arts – Josh Radnor’s Love Letter to College

What up, Buttercups?

As the title implies, this film is Josh Radnor’s love letter to his college days.

It is written, directed and stars Radnor and it made me wonder how much of himself he poured into Ted Mosby. Or how much Jesse Fisher was based on Ted because the two are hard to tell apart sometimes.

For example. Both Ted and Jesse are from Ohio, they’re both misty-eyed romantics who see their college days through spectacularly rose-tinted glasses and they both have this grand love affair with New York City. Minor similarities between the characters include: a professor they love and cite as their inspiration, notions that they’re intellectuals while not being as refined and sophisticated as they think they are and an attraction to the wrong girl.

Another usable subtitle for this review could have been Liberal Arts – The Ted Mosby Movie. Essentially that is what it feels like.

Now with that said. There are things about this film that I love.

The opening is not one of them though. It has this weird cold open that is filmed documentary style for no logical reason. Apart from an information dump that he works for a college and he lives in New York.

The introduction of a love interest (Elizabeth Olsen) and the building of their relationship through hand written letters, I like. The use of classical music to underscore the letter is also great. I love the juxtaposition of classical music played through modern technology while reading old-fashioned snail mail. The clichéd voice-overs reading them out… not so much. It’s a technique that has been done to death.

I also love the hesitation he shows once finding out his lady love has yet to have her first sexual experience. I can’t state that enough. That is a moral choice that I don’t think is made much in films. Ether through conscious choice or through the female characters keeping it as a secret until after the deed is done.

There is also the subplot of a suicidal student genius. It allows the film to give a subtle nod to Josh’s How I Met Your Mother Past. The book they discuss is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace; who was played amazingly by Jason Segel in End of the Tour.

The major problem I have with this film is the second love interest. The one that feels tacked on to the end just to give it a happy ending. It comes completely out of nowhere from a couple of characters that barely speak to each other for the entire length of the movie. The entire romance is shoehorned in and feels completely see through.

It is in many ways a feature length episode of How I Met Your Mother… but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

It may lack the panache and punch of a big summer blockbuster or traditional romantic comedy there are some very human moments. The letter scene between Jesse and Zibby (Olsen) where they discuss music and life and love is solid. We gifted with a sense of excitement that we all feel when someone we like texts us. I love that instead of it being texts or emails it if the old fashioned letter and more power to Josh Radnor for writing it that way. It would been way too easy to have Zibby be some typical college student who is into hip-hop and never off her phone and have Jesse be this guy stuck in the past trying hard to relive his glorious college days through a relationship with a younger woman.

What Radnor does is show us what happens when you’re old enough and mature enough to realise that what you want may not in fact be good for you.

While the cast isn’t star-studded there are some big names here Allison Janney plays a cougar professor showing us that the fantasies we have in our youth can be attainable but sometimes they’re better left as fantasies. Zac Efron’s turn as the oddball, free-thinking, free-living Nat is the perfect counterpoint Jesse’s over-seriousness. Elizabeth Reaser is the shoehorned in love interest and while that does annoy me – mostly because there is no real development between Reaser’s Ana and Jesse – sometimes that is the way of life you fallout of something bad into something good. So my objection to that may be nothing more than not accepting something in film I’d have no trouble accepting in life.

Overall; the film is a solid one and one that is definitely worth a re-watch whenever you wish you could go back and have your time again.

RTJ

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