Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Liberal Arts": Student Affair Department

In "Liberal Arts," Jesse Fisher (played by Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed the film), a 35-year-old, jaded New York City university admissions counselor, returns to the leafy precincts of Kenyon College in Ohio to attend the retirement party of a favorite professor, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins). The professor introduces Jesse to Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old drama major. The two next meet at a party, go out for coffee and argue about literature. Jesse goes back to New York with a classical music disc that Zibby made for him, which enables him to see the city anew. He returns to Kenyon to visit Zibby, whose youthfulness and energy reawaken Jesse's associations with his halcyon campus years; Jesse is attracted to Zibby because he's unlike the immature guys she meets on campus. This is a narrative that might, if handled clumsily, descend into triteness. The turn that Jesse's visit takes, however, gives the film an ultimately thoughtful and realistic perspective on life's transitions. Subplots involve Professor Hoberg's conflicted feelings about retirement; a hotel tryst with Judith (Allison Janney), an embittered poetry professor; and an encounter with a depressed student–all suggesting that one's alma mater isn't necessarily as paradisiacal as one's memories render them.

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