by Hiko Mitsuzuka
Shortly after leaving its impressive mark on Sundance last January, Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts came and went earlier this fall (seriously, it played for, what, a week at the new Sundance Cinemas on Sunset?). But luckily for anyone who has an iTunes account, subscribes to Netflix, or enjoys purchasing physical copies at your local Best Buy or Target, this acutely observed and feel-good dramedy is on Blu-ray and DVD just in time for last-minute holiday gift-giving.
For anyone who considers themselves a romantic or a proud bibliophile, this one's for you. Radnor (an HIH alum) stars as Jesse, a recently brokenhearted 35-year-old intellectual who returns to his alma mater to celebrate the retirement of his favorite professor (the grand Richard Jenkins). While waxing nostalgic and revisiting his old stomping grounds, Jesse meets 19-year-old Zibby (the increasingly impressive Elizabeth Olsen), one of those nubile, young coeds with a seemingly old soul. The two are instantly drawn to each other, swapping critiques on literature, rediscovering the wonders of classical music, and writing letters -- yes, actual pen-to-paper letters -- to one another with flirtatious flair. Do they have such age-inappropriate chemistry because she's mature, or because he's stunted? That's something to be explored in Radnor's sophomoric attempt at writing and directing (his first being the 2011 charmer happythankyoumoreplease).
The movie also happens to capture the Thirtysomething Experience, tapping into the insecurities and fears of those trapped somewhere between Generations X and Y, a group of youngish adults who are either still finding themselves or starting out with a clean, new slate in their lives.
And perhaps the most delightful surprises of the film are performances from Alison Janney, as a tenured teacher who shows Jesse some tough love, and a nearly uncredited Zac Efron as a peace-promoting hipster (it's his most memorable performance in recent memory -- forget The Paperboy). Clearly Radnor has a knack for casting the right players in his subtle productions.
Since we've already compiled our Top 10 movie list for the year (coming shortly), consider this one a very honorable mention.
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)