The most fun to be had watching the film is coffee cup continuity errors. Sounds great, right?


Theatrical Release Date: 09/14/2012 (limited)
Director: Josh Radnor
Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, Zac Efron
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 1 hour, 37 minutes


Trailer:

Is this a time lapse photo?

The notion of working out one’s personal demons via a screenplay is hardly new. It seems that nearly every young filmmaker goes through this and Josh Radnor is apparently no exception. While I have yet to sit down and watch “Happythankyoumoreplease”, between reading its description and now remaining in a movie theater seat for the entire duration of his latest writer/director/starring actor effort, “Liberal Arts”, the themes and conclusions reached feel like some of the most self-indulgent fare in years.

Now of course, I don’t know Mr. Radnor and maybe, just maybe, the events and characters within his films are not alternate versions of events and people within his own life. Seeing as very few writers approach subject material like this and actually write outside of themselves, I just don’t see it so I’m going with my own premise. Take that for what you will.

Back to my comment that this is self-indulgent, let’s analyze the facts, shall we? Radnor plays the central character, an unsatisfied admissions officer at a New York university who returns to his Ohio liberal arts college alma mater to say something nice about one his favorite teachers (Richard Jenkins). While there he crosses paths with a current student 16 years his junior (Elizabeth Olsen) and her romantic advance makes him question his own judgment on life (sadly there are no Aaliyah songs on the soundtrack). Everything plays out in a very mopey and idealized fashion, like some daydream Radnor might have had while on hiatus from acting on his network TV show.

In some ways, this was reminiscent of Zach Braff’s effort “Garden State”. Both clearly exhibit filmmakers managing their own emotional journeys but while I could identify with elements of what Braff brought (and recognize the cinematic faults), Radnor manages to make “Liberal Arts” feel like some creepy fantasy he knows he shouldn’t play out in real life but gets to anyway with the magic of cinema. Sure, he tries to throw in a subplot where Jenkins’ character is having trouble actually letting go of academic life but he’s really there to provide the father figure/moral reminder for Radnor.

All of this was compounded by the obvious circularity in the script and film, introducing in not-so-subtle fashion a book store clerk in New York (Elizabeth Reaser) that will play a predictable part in the resolution of the story. In what might be the only time I write this phrase: the best component of the film is Zac Efron (*shudder*), who plays a dippy character that spouts nonsensical statements under the guise of new age wisdom … which only turn out to be good ideas for Radnor to rely upon. Ugh.

I was hopeful that the quality acting abilities of Olsen and Jenkins would overpower any deficiencies in the script but their inclusion only makes the idea of watching something else they’ve done even more appealing than getting through the entirety of Radnor’s self-diagnostic lump of celluloid. A 2 out of 5, interested parties can surely wait for the home market and if you never had intentions of seeing “Liberal Arts” in the first place, remember that your first instinct is usually the best one.

2 out of 5