Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor) is some kind of admissions counselor in New York. He looks, and behaves, awfully lot like Ted Mosby (during his teaching phase) might behave if he was pretending to be someone else. He achieves this by sporting a beard and being less physically manic than Ted can sometimes get.
I guess this is the burden of trying embody a character different from the one Mr. Radnor has played for the past eight years because it is really easy to think–while watching Liberal Arts–“Oh look, Ted Mosby’s architectural career didn’t work out and he is a book-loving admissions counselor now.”
Jesse has been recently dumped by his girlfriend and while life in New York is, well, “life in New York” he jumps at the opportunity to visit his old alma mater when his favourite professor (Richard Jenkins) calls to ask if he might consider attending a retirement dinner in the old man’s honour.
35-year-old Jesse clearly looks back upon his time on campus with extreme nostalgia, so much so that he has to roll onto the lawn and lie back to savour the feeling of grass on his back as soon as he arrives on campus. Moments afterwards he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen)–that’s how the cool kids are re-purposing the name Elizabeth these days–and develops a crush. Only problem is, he is sixteen years older than her.
But the thing is, Zibby is into him too. Except!
This is not that kind of European Arthouse movie.
To call Liberal Arts ‘slight’ is simultaneously accurate, and a little unfair. It is actually more of a snapshot of a certain time in two people’s lives–two people who would normally have never met because they inhabit different worlds. The film touches upon the trouble with growing up, the difficulties inherent in growing old, and the slippery slope upon which most male-female relationships are conducted. But it does all of it in a largely polite manner. There is no high drama. There aren’t big explosive tears–there is some crying of course–and even when Zibby gets really mad at Jesse she asks him to leave by telling him she is “really upset right now”.
I found myself buying into the ideas conveyed through Jesse’s interactions with Zibby, Professor Hoberg, and the two weird kids (played by John Magaro and Zac Efron) he encounters during his first visit to campus. On paper this is a movie I would detest, so I am a little surprised that I liked it.
Final Analysis: This movie is over-written in parts but it brings something fresh to the older man-younger woman story dynamic.
My Advice: Don’t go in expecting three (or four) episodes of How I Met Your Mother.