Starring Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen and Richard Jenkins. Written by Josh Radnor. Directed by Josh Radnor. Produced by Brice Dal Farra, Claude Dal Farra, Jesse Hara, Laurn Munsch, Paul Prokop and Josh Radnor.
In the same fashion as his character Ted on the hit TV show, How I Met Your Mother, Radnor's character, Jesse Fisher in Liberal Arts is another 30-something year old with anxiety about his future. Instead of searching for a mate, he's searching for meaningful and deep experiences in his life, and is equally as frustrating as Ted.
This film follows Jesse's late progression into adulthood and takes us on his journey of self-discovery and fulfillment when he returns to his old college town to celebrate the retirement of one of his most beloved professors. Beginning a bizarre relationship with Zibby (Olsen) who is 16 years his junior and a classic representation of what many would call a "manic pixie dream girl" and befriending an aloof stoner named Nat (Efron), he begins to question his pretentious, closed-minded ways. In one scene, he and Zibby get into it over the book Twilight and he asks her how she can read such an awfully-written book, to which she replies simply that she enjoys it, leaving him not knowing how to retort.
As there's not much action or external conflict, and the story meanders and attempts to crowd-please with light humor and nostalgic scenery, but it frankly isn't enough. It's as though a self-help book were translated to the screen, much like Eat, Pray, Love, and we're forced to watch someone put these theories into practice, ultimately learning to let go and live his life in the present. Radnor plays this part well, but his character is not someone people are naturally fond of, and the corniness of the script doesn't do him any favors. Efron surprises us in an atypical role in which he provides us with comic relief as that airhead guy who wanders around the campus of a school he doesn't attend.
Liberal Arts makes a valid point and accurately portrays this age and the baggage that comes with it, but because there's little that stands out in the script, it ends up being a passible and forgettable movie.