Say what you will about Liberal Arts degrees, ridiculed by some as glorified courses in general knowledge that effectively leave students without a real education, but like it or not, life, or the university of hard knocks, eventually makes degree holders out of us all, even if our alma mater is one we never really graduate from.
This is something that Jesse (Josh Radnor), discovers in Liberal Arts (trailer), also Radnor’s second directing effort following 2010’s “Happythankyoumoreplease”, when he returns to his former college for the retirement dinner of Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), a professor he greatly respected during his days as an under-graduate.
Now 35, trapped in a job in New York that offers no fulfilment, and single again after another woman walked out on him, Jesse is delighted to be back on his leafy old stomping ground, at Ohio’s Kenyon College, once more. While dining later with friends of Peter’s, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19 year old sophomore at the university.
In the days and weeks that follow, Jesse and Zibby discover, despite their age difference, that they have numerous shared interests through the hand written letters they exchange after Jesse returns to New York. And while both realise that a romantic attraction is forming, Jesse is reluctant to be any more than a friend to Zibby.
It is the reticence to see Jesse and Zibby, who, when in her element, appears to be wiser to the world than her older would-be beau, form a serious relationship, that takes away much of the substance that “Liberal Arts” could have had. The question is though, was this out of a fear of offending certain viewer sensibilities, or not?
Otherwise “Liberal Arts”, even if it gets a little muddled along the way, bestows something of a general knowledge education in itself, and of course more, even if it regards so-called May to December romances as unheard of. But you haven’t lived, or languished, unless you’ve studied the Liberal Arts, and dated beyond your years, and that much it gets right.