Liberal Arts – A How I Met Your Mother Side-Story [FQ13 #61]


Why I Saw It: The preview for this film made it seem interesting. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) seems to be an interesting guy, and his first writer/director offering, HappyThankYouMorePlease, was above average, so I was looking forward to seeing his follow-up. Furthermore, I’ve heard plenty of good things about Elizabeth Olsen, and I wanted to make up my own mind about her skills.

What Was It About?  “When 30-something Jesse returns to his alma mater for a professor’s retirement party, he falls for Zibby, a college student, and is faced with a powerful attraction that springs up between them.

Rating: 7.0 out of 10

Memorable Performances: The performance from Josh Radnor was on par with what you’ll see from him on How I Met Your Mother… and to be honest, this film seemed a bit like a side-story on that show. Putting aside the fact that Ted Mosby (character from HIMYM) is an architect and the guy from Liberal Arts is a writer, all this movie was missing was a mention about how things didn’t work out with Robin, or his friend Barney who insists on wearing suits everywhere, or his friend from Minnesota. Give it any of these things, and we end up wondering why people are calling him “Jesse Fisher” instead of “Ted Mosby”.

Elizabeth Olsen did a good job with the role, actually making you think that her character would be interested in spending time with a guy who’s a decade older than her and still trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life other than read books higher on the food chain than Twilight.

Richard Jenkins didn’t have a big role, but he did more than an adequate job with his mentor-struggling-with-potential-retirement. Allison Janney continues to be a highlight in just about everything she’s in, regardless of the fact that her role is minimal here.

Potential Nominations for Film Quest ’13:  

  • Best Supporting Actress – Elizabeth Olsen

Favorite Parts: The sub-plot with Jesse and Dean was a very strong aspect of the film that gave it an extra dimension and helped develop Jesse more than what we got from the film’s primary plot. The ending of the film was better than what I was expecting when considering the film’s culmination mid-way through.

Another thing I really liked about the film is that it was filmed at Kenyon College, which is the alma mater of both Josh Radnor AND Allison Janney, meaning they got to film a movie about going back to your alma mater… while going back to their alma mater. Not that it necessarily added to the film, although maybe it helped Radnor’s character look like he was in love with his surroundings.

The Regrettable Aspects: Perhaps if I felt more affinity towards books and liked to sit around and discuss authors, novels and literary themes, I would’ve enjoyed this film more. But that’s just not a hobby of mine, so at its core, this film had an enjoyability ceiling for me. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the film, and while the characters were entertaining, the tone and subject matter involved keep it from being listed as a great film.

Oh, and then Zac Efron’s character. I don’t object to him based solely on the fact that it’s Zac Efron, but because the concept of the seemingly-intoxicated philosopher tends to annoy me. It didn’t detract too much from the film, but they could’ve done something different with Jesse’s soundingboard.


Would I watch it again? I doubt I will. I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d want to have another viewing. I’ll certainly be recommending it to a few people (and I already have), and if they wanted me to watch it with them, I would, but I’d probably recommend they check it out themselves. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it wasn’t entertaining enough for me to want to have another watch.

To Whom Would I Recommend It?  To anyone who enjoys reading or went to a small college. Even if you enjoy How I Met Your Mother, I still might have to know more about your interests before I would think this is a film you’ll enjoy.

Other Recommendations:

HappyThankYouMorePlease – This is the first film that Josh Radnor wrote and directed, and by all rights, it’s worth watching if you enjoy Liberal Arts. Again, it’s not something I’d blindly recommend to the How I Met Your Mother crowd, but I won’t be surprised when a lot of them enjoy it. If you primarily enjoy that show because of Barney or the goofiness from Marshall or Robin, I’d be wary.

– SUNSHINE CLEANING – This movie was mentioned on the IMDB page for Liberal Arts, and I can see something of a connection, though Sunshine Cleaning is a bit more dramatic. They’re both soul-searching stories.

– YOUR SISTER’S SISTER – I’m struggling to figure out why I’m recommending this film here, aside from the fact that it’s an independent drama with a fair amount of comedy to it. They both take interesting inter-personal relationships which have a slightly awkward feel to it, and they make it seem somewhat normal, and enjoyable to watch it unfold.

IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY – This is another film that IMDB links to Liberal Arts, and I’ll go along with it. Liberal Arts also deals with some themes about maturity and mentors and finding relationships where you might not expect them and cross-generational interactions. I absolutely recommend IKoaFS, especially if you want to see a strong performance from a non-absurd Zach Galifianakis.

If you’ve got recommendations for alternatives to LIBERAL ARTS, or for other similar films, let me know!

Next up… BATMAN: The DARK KNIGHT RETURNS Part 1 (and possibly Part 2)!


One response to “Liberal Arts – A How I Met Your Mother Side-Story [FQ13 #61]

  1. A more thought-provoking movie than I expected from Radnor. However, the movie is made a lot better by his impressive, supporting cast. Good review Rob.

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