Whatever your college major is at the moment, don’t disregard this film simply because of the title. In “Liberal Arts,” 35-year-old Jesse (who is also screenwriter/director Josh Radnor) is invited to make a trip back to his alma mater, where he revels in the bliss of being a college undergrad. He meets a mature-for-her-age coed known as Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who becomes his exceptional conversational counterpart, although she is 16 years younger. Thus, the dilemma begins.
This film depicts what could hap- pen when postgraduates and undergraduates collide. The outcome isn’t exactly hazardous or unsuccessful, but some conversations or topics can certainly make or break the potential of their seemingly “going- somewhere” relationship. Age may be nothing but a number to most, but Jesse teaches the audience that once the math is done, it matters. Although the chemistry is there, a strong dose of R-E-S-P-E-C-T shields this otherwise stationary liaison. Speaking of stationery, pen and paper play a major role in the way the two protagonists communicate. Be prepared to observe outdated techniques of communication that would otherwise be known as impractical; but for this movie, they somehow work. In an age of texting and email, it’s surprising to find some people (i.e. seemingly hopeless romantic college sophomores) actually want to have pen pals, but Radnor lessens the anxiety of this antiquated ritual by taking viewers through an almost-beautiful montage of the old-fashioned method. One humorous scene in the film illustrates Jesse jotting down on a piece of paper the “when I was 19 years old, she was…” until the screen verifies when he was in college, Zibby was only three years old, causing the majority of the audience to laugh at the reality of this implied societal ridiculousness. Moreover, A-plus to Allison Janney for playing Jesse’s favorite professor, Judith Fairfield, in a role with a mighty domineering take on her perceptions about romance writers and her persistent claim that Jesse is destined for romantic doom. Jesse has professor Peter Hoberg, played by Richard Jenkins, as a mentor to give him advice about the facts of life.
On the other hand, Nat (Zac Efron) appears in a couple of cam- eos as the modern flower child of the film and brings to the beer pong table some resonating words every- one needs to hear periodically. His heathen mannerisms really enlighten the main character and, through his amusing sense, may even enlighten the viewer.
“Liberal Arts” has minimal elements of the so-called “college life” (i.e. the underage drinking, the roommate code of conduct, the coffeehouse used for social asylum) but more so, this film has honest to goodness truth. The ending, although it seems to move rather fast in an effort to wrap things up, gets a high satisfactory grade. After all, whatever you came to college to “study,” liberal arts is what we are all really majoring in, n’est-ce pas?