LIBERAL ARTS (director/writer: Josh Radnor; cinematographer: Seamus Tierney; editor: Michael R. Miller; music: Ben Toth; cast: Josh Radnor) (Jesse Fisher), Elizabeth Olsen (Zibby), Richard Jenkins (Prof. Peter Hoberg), Allison Janney (Judith Fairfield ), John Magaro (Dean), Zac Efron (Nat), Gregg Edelman (Robert), Elizabeth Reaser (Ana), Kristan Bush (Leslie), Ali Ahn (Vanessa); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Josh Radnor/Brice Dal Farra/Claude Dal Farra/Jesse Hara/Lauren Munsch; ; 2012)

“Has a soap opera vibe.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A melancholy coming-of-age romantic comedy set in a bucolic college in Ohio. Josh Radnor (“happythankyoumoreplease”), sitcom actor on TV’S “How I Met Your Mother,” is writer and director. The movie has a soap opera vibe that turns me off, even if it’s also mostly intelligent and wisely advocates reading good books and listening to good music without being snobbish.

Unhappy in his personal life and with his job, nice guy Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor) just broke up with his girlfriend and his laundry was swiped at a Brooklyn laundromat. Then the 35-year-old bearded college admissions counselor in New York City is called by his favorite college English Lit professor, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), and invited to speak about his student days at a testimonial for his retirement at the end of the year. The stressed-out Jesse is happy to return to the campus of Kenyon College, where he spent his carefree student days (also Josh’s alma mater) and meets there the precocious 19-year-old coed drama student Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). The uptight Jesse is awe struck with the spontaneous and spirited improv theater drama coed and before returning to NYC she lays on him a tape of her classical musical favorites and asks him to write a handwritten letter telling how he digs the music. Making a mail connection, Jesse visits Zibby. On this visit Jesse muses on whether he’s too old for Zibby and questions her taste in reading a popular vampire trilogy.

All the subplots were turn offs and brought the film down. They include the one about Peter changing his mind about retiring and finding the dean already hired a replacement; Jesse meeting on campus the manic-depressive loner genius Dean (John Magaro) and befriending the emotionally needy kid that reminds him of how he behaved at that age; and the college counselor becoming friends with a cheery spiritual chatterbox hippie, Nat (Zac Efron), who might be either a student or a campus gadfly, who guru-like ladles out unsolicited advice. There’s also a reunion with Jesse’s outwardly frosty cynical English Lit prof (Allison Janney), a sexual encounter that makes him reevaluate the good grades he gave the embittered lady as a teacher.

We’re left in doubt if Jesse and Zibby make a love connection, but while they’re sizing each other up I am becoming increasingly put off by Jesse’s smugness, all the inane chatter, and sentimental nostalgia. I thereby lost interest in the outcome of their relationship, as the pic in the third reel was making more insignificant points and hazy judgments about life and of getting a liberal arts education than in presenting more lucid insights into the love life motivations of its leading characters.

REVIEWED ON 12/11/2012 GRADE: C+