A triumph from rising star Josh Radnor who writes, directs and co-stars, this is a delightful tale of regret, disillusion and wary romance.
Radnor is Jesse Fisher, a jaded academic who briefly returns to his old college for his bitter ex-professor’s retirement party and unexpectedly falls in love with a student half his age. Thus begins a glorious long-distance love affair conducted by letter as romance blossoms between Jesse and Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen).
A delight from start to finish, Liberal Arts considers Jesse’s turmoil – is he going to end up a burned-out relic like his mentor (delicately played by the always excellent Richard Jenkins) or will his return to his alma mater free him from his rut by recalling youthful days of hope?
It also presents the eternal issues of age differences in the modern world and casts Olsen as an emotional cripple living in a self-created bubble of romanticism and yearning for a renaissance man. Cue Jesse. It’s a role he aspires to but cannot commit to.
“Nobody feels like an adult,” says Jenkins at one point. “It’s the world’s dirty secret.” And therein lies the message of Liberal Arts and Radnor’s scintillating script: people are disappointing. Turning back the clock doesn’t work, nor does living vicariously through someone else’s life.
Great writing, a slow-burn romance, fine performances from Jenkins, Olsen, Alison Janney and Radnor make this one of the best comedy/romances of the summer. Smart, funny and self aware, it urges hesitation in love and warns against the corruptive influence of dewy-eyed nostalgia.