Liberal Arts

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liberal arts

Could you turn down Elizabeth Olsen?

Josh Radnor, best known for the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, struck out on his first film – HappyThankYouMorePlease. In this movie, he hits it out of the park. Perhaps some of the themes you’ve seen before – age difference in relationships, college freshman exciting to discover classical music and authors, and older folks disgruntled with the world. Those older folks range from a guy in his 30s that’s tired of his dead end job, a guy in his 60s retiring from a job, and a woman in her 50s that’s an influential teacher – who couldn’t care less about the praise that’s heaped upon her.

Radnor wrote, directed, and starred in this film. His look is perfect, too. Some critics will compare him to Zach Braff. Yet as much as I loved Garden State, his look and vibe wouldn’t have worked at all for a character like this. You always expect Braff to have a witty retort. Radnor is a good looking, regular guy. He has a boring job as a college admissions officer in New York, who is asked to give a speech at the retirement dinner for one of his favorite professors. That professor is played wonderfully by the always reliable Richard Jenkins. He loves his Hawaiian shirts, and warm chicken dinners. And he might love his job a little more than he lets on.

Radnor is introduced to Elizabeth Olsen, a college freshman in an improv group. There may be a 16 year age difference, but they start writing, exchanging mixtapes, and falling in love.

There are a few other college students he meets. One is played by Zac Efron. In a poorly written script, we’d be annoyed by his goofball antics. Yet in this, we love the guy and his wacky philosophies.

There’s a bookstore clerk who might have eyes for Radnor, an old professor he might have eyes for, and a depressed student that has eyes for the same novels he likes.

And just as Efron’s character has been done in other films, Allison Janney (The West Wing) plays a character we’ve seen before. Yet when she rants about men not being real men anymore – we laugh. Its helped by some of the scenarios she’s involved in as well.

Part of me cringed at the pretentious way they used classical pieces of music, yet it’s hard to complain when I’m hearing Rossini, Wagner, and Vivaldi. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Vivaldi piece in a movie that didn’t work.

There’s a conversation about how bad the Twilight books are, as an intelligent woman defends reading them. It sounds exactly like a conversation I had with my friend Veronika when she was buying 50 Shades of Grey and I was reading it in line. Except they had the amazing exchange punctuated by her saying, “I hated Chaucer,” followed by his reply of “You’re not supposed to like Chaucer!”

This movie had me so enthralled that when the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest was brought up a few times – I was bummed I hadn’t read the book.

Elizabeth Olsen is excellent in every movie she does. It’s bizarre to think she’s even related to the club-hopping Olsen twins. She is a bit like Drew Barrymore in this, but don’t let that scare you. It’s what the character needed to have, especially when we see how things turn out in her relationships. I won’t spoil how one scene ends with her, but an older woman leaving the theatre said to me “I love the fact that we don’t see what happened with her and that one guy at the party.”

It was an excellent point.

It amazes me this movie can cover ground we’ve seen before, but come off as believable, cute, funny, and leaving you with a smile on your face the entire time. And wishing you would’ve done things different in your college days (or that you went to a college where there were autumn leaves to roll around in). It may not be as profound as Radnor thought it was, but ya know what? It’s one of the best movies of the year. I saw it two months ago, and I can remember lines like “Too bad Norman Mailer’s dead. You two would be perfect together!”

Richard Jenkins broke your heart in The Visitor, and he does a little in this, too. It’s going to break my heart if this movie doesn’t get the audience it deserves.

I’m giving it 4 stars out of 5.

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