Wednesday, 17 October 2012
Slow-paced, charming and witty, this is the perfect romantic comedy
By Kat BrownI have recently been sucked into watching the seemingly never ending sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, on E4. About to enter its eighth season, it's the closest thing we have to a successor to Friends, and has launched the Hollywood careers of its cast, including its multitasking leading man, Josh Radnor.
In HIMYM, his character, Ted, is a New Yorker trying to find the woman he will eventually settle down with. In Liberal Arts, his new film, Radnor writes, directs and stars as a slightly less optimistic New York prospect: Jesse Fisher, a mid-30s bookworm stuck in an uninspiring job in a university admissions department.
Recently dumped, Jesse jumps at the offer to return to his old college to honour the retirement of a favourite teacher (Richard Jenkins). The unnamed, rather gorgeous college, is played by Kenyon University in Ohio, Radnor's own alma mater.
At the teacher's retirement dinner, Jesse meets 19-year-old student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen, playing precocious without coming across as unrealistic). While Jesse feels stuck, Zibby is filed with zest. Jesse falls happily back into the rose-tinted rhythm of university and the pair share classical-music playlists and properly written letters. It's a lovely evocation of the time when nothing is more important than intense feelings about books and people, but underneath is the uneasy knowledge that Jesse doesn't belong in this world any more.
Balancing the urge to bury himself in the past are sharp wake-up calls from his favourite professors. As the impending retiree suddenly experiencing total panic, Richard Jenkins gets the film's best line: 'Nobody feels like an adult. That's the world's dirty secret.' Allison Janney, who plays the literature teacher Jesse, in full-on nostalgia mode, gets inevitably but unwisely close to, gets another: 'Put some armour round that gooey little heart of yours.' There should be a button you can press to inject Janney into a film; she's never anything less than amazing.
Slow-paced, charming and witty, Liberal Arts is light years away from the frat boy campus comedies that have dominated the box office to date. While it's easier to settle into than this year's Damsels In Distress, it shares that film's preference for thought over gross-out, and its supporting cast of familiar student characters inhabit their gawky stereotypes well.
The film's 'gooey little heart' might get poked at, but it's a comforting, escapist ride. What's more, it reminds you of the absolute joy that comes from losing yourself in a book.
Daily tip from the lady archive
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