With awards season in full swing and big, gaudy epics like The Hobbit and franchise films like Skyfall rule the box office, the smaller the film, the likelier it is to truly be overlooked. Gems like Middle Of Nowhere stay relegated to arthouse cinemas and other small theaters, while most films will play as catch up fodder for those looking to steer clear of the theaters come the January doldrums. One such film that should be caught up with as soon as humanly possible is Josh Radnor’s latest film, Liberal Arts.
The How I Met Your Mother star’s follow-up to his equally underrated Happythankyoumoreplease, Radnor finds himself as the film’s lead, a teacher returning home to his alma mater for a retirement party in honor of a former professor. While there, he meets a beautiful young woman, a college student by the name of Zibby, whose passion for literature seems to light a fire in him. Even introducing him to some things he’s never heard prior, the two connect instantly, and what follows is one of the more heartfelt, well made and even better performed romantic comedies of the year.
Written by Radnor as well, his voice is the driving force of the film. Featuring superb photography from Seamus Tierney, the film is well crafted, but more so, it’s beautifully structured, written and paced. Radnor’s voice, his sense of humor and heart, comes through loud and clear via this screenplay, and is breathed into existence by a handful of top notch performances.
Radnor stars as Jesse Fisher, and he is really quite great here. There is a sense of ease found within the performances of both he and his co-star/romantic interest Elizabeth Olsen (who is stunning as Zibby here) and their chemistry is palpable. Radnor’s character doesn’t seem that distant intellectually from himself, and that realism really comes across beautifully on screen.
Olsen, however, is the real star here. Again, the ease with which she portray’s Zibby is startling, arguably rivaling anything the young thespian has done to date. Each emotional beat is pronounced and punctuated with real truth and heart from Olsen, who is proving to be one of this young generation’s strongest and most exciting voices. Not as physical and wide-ranged a performance as something in say Martha Marcy May Marlene, this is still a beautifully true performance, and adds great depth when taken along with Radnor’s performance as well. Toss in solid supporting turns from Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser and a breakout turn by the ever so fantastic John Magaro, and you have quite a fantastic indie romantic comedy ensemble collected here.
Available now on Blu-ray, the film includes a commentary, deleted scenes, trailer and a featurette. Not a groundbreaking Blu-ray release by any means (MPI is behind the Blu-ray of this IFC Films release), the film, as cliché and standard a narrative as it may very well be, is an emotionally moving motion picture about two people who make a connection at the most basic of levels. Instead of being a film about two people stuck in a world of lust, as so many Hollywood romantic comedies are, these people connect due to similarities intellectually. Subdued, the film may not crack year end top ten lists or skyrocket to the top of home video sales charts, but it is a comedy that is both wonderfully performed, and wonderfully moving. A real gem.