MIFF 2012 Part Five: Liberal Arts
Tuesday 14th August, 6:30pm
All of my MIFF reviews so far have been quite positive, praising the high calibre of films at this year’s festival. That stops here.
Liberal Arts is a wanky hipster film that romanticises college to an insanely ridiculous extent. The film centres around 35 year-old Jesse [played by How I Met Your Mother‘s Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed the film], who is invited back to his alma mater by one of his old professors, who is retiring. Jesse is lost in life – having completed an Arts degree, he’s clearly never had any real direction – and is very reminiscent of his formulative college years. Elizabeth Olsen plays Zibby1, a student who believes in saying “yes” because that’s what you do in an improv troupe. She also really likes classical music, after taking a life-changing subject in freshman year. Zibby is our protagonist’s significantly younger love interest, and she makes him a mixtape. Of classical music. That “changes” him.
I know American colleges are the a different experience to Australian universities, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than sitting around reading and listening to classical music [unless you’re very, uh, priveleged]. Surely these people should have jobs? Oh, and as a real example of how “cultured” these college kids are – none of them watch TV. Do they realise how much they’re missing out on? I know there’s a lot of crap on American telly, but there are also shows like Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock and whatever your favourite US television show is these days [let me guess – Game of Thrones?].
All of that said, the film does have a few redeeming features. The suicidal kid gave another perspective of the college years [apparently you either love it, or try to kill yourself]. And, of course, there’s Allison Janney. Just by being Allison Janney she made me feel a little better about being in the audience for this film. But the real surprise highlight, however, came in the shape of an actor named Zac Efron. Now, that’s not a sentence that I ever imagined writing, but it’s true. Zac Efron, as a water-drinking hippie in a stupid hat, was hands-down the best part of this movie. Think of him what you will, but the boy’s got great comic timing.
I know that there are plenty of people out there who will love Liberal Arts. Maybe they study literature, or had a live-changing experience while listening to a Beethoven piece2. I am not one of these people, and I do not recommend this film. Liberal Arts is a lame journey of self-discovery that doesn’t even have a real story. Honestly, don’t bother.
1 Apparently this is a nickname for Elizabeth. I think it sounds stupid.
2 I’d just like to note that I do actually like quite a bit of classical music, just not in the overly pretentious way that it was presented in this film.