Film review: Liberal Arts

As a vehicle for writer, director and actor Josh Radnor to wallow in his memories of college life, Liberal Arts is fine. As an enthralling piece of cinema, not so much.

Director: Josh Radnor
Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Reaser, Allison Janney
Rating: (M)
2 stars (out of 5)

Radnor casts himself as Jesse Fisher, a 35-year-old admissions clerk stumbling through life in New York, but Liberal Arts will have little resonance with anyone who hasn't set foot near a university.

After a chance invitation from his ''second'' favourite professor to attend a retirement party at his old Ohio campus, it's pretty inevitable (given a recent relationship break-up) that a future romance might be on the cards.

That's where Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a precocious 19-year-old arts student, steps in. Backing up from her inspired performance as a cult survivor in Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, Olsen plays the know-it-all arts student pretty well, but she never really gets a chance to stretch out.

Richard Jenkins, as retiring academic Peter Holberg, has his moments, but this is Radnor's film and after a successful career propping up television sitcoms, he seems determined to perfect an American version of Hugh Grant.

There are a couple of nicely choreographed moments, but the real gem amid the touchy-feely drivel is Allison Janney's cameo as Prof Fairfield. Appearing all too briefly, Fairfield's casual contempt for Fisher is exactly the kick-start the film needs, but like Jenkins' character, it seems like more of an afterthought.

Best thing: Allison Janney as the steely Prof Fairfield.

Worst thing: How many lingering close-ups on Elizabeth Olsen's eyes do we need?

See it with: Memories of a time when you pretentiously debated the merits of postmodern literature.

- Mark Orton

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