Top positive review
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A Heart Mending Film
on July 4, 2013
With so many heartbreaking films in the cinema today, it is refreshing to encounter and engage with Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts, a heart mending film. A film that dares to say that things aren't that bad, in a time when cynicism runs rampant through the streets. And I don't know about you, but I could use a healthy dose of optimism in the movies I watch. Josh Radnor grabs cynicism by the shoulder and gently leads him out of the movie theater, while calmly embracing compassion, awareness, and unabashed optimism. Josh Radnor may just be the soul that saves all of our weary souls. Josh's innate ability to create and inspire is one of the most over-looked talents today. How is this guy not on the front page of the newspaper every day? If you haven't seen Liberal Arts, then you need to get on that. It is by no means a run of the mill romantic comedy with cliched dialogue and unrealistic dramatic debacles. It is a beautiful symphony of impeccable directorial finesse, precise subtle nuanced acting, and a wonderfully aware script with resonant quotes that stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
Josh's clear vision for Liberal Arts really paid off. The beautiful cadence with which each actor speaks is unmatched by any other movie(not that it's a competition, but it's totally a competition, and Liberal Arts wins, by a landslide, a very peaceful landslide that has no casualties, just bruised egos perhaps). With these unique, intriguing characters, it's no wonder there is never a dull moment in this movie. Jesse Fisher(Josh Radnor), is a 35-year old college admissions counselor, who is less than enthused about his career, and returns to his alma mater, Kenyon College, for one of his favorite professor's retirement dinners. While on campus, he becomes entranced by the spirited, effervescent Zibby(Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year old student, and complications ensue. A pleasant surprise in the film is the affable, ethereal Nat(Zac Ephron), who extoles wisdom effortlessly and with grace, as if he is plugged in to some universal truth. The cast is rounded out with Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, and John Magaro, who each give stellar performances in their own right. Richard Jenkins is an absolute delight, bringing his trademark wonderful energy to the film. He plays Professor Peter Hoberg, who is struggling with his retirement from teaching. Allison Janney is at her best, playing a spit fire of a character as Jesse's former teacher. Elizabeth Reaser gives an endearing performance as a lovable bookworm who crosses Jesse's path. And last but definitely not least, John Magaro gives a moving performance as a student struggling to find his place in the collegiate world. With so many great characters, it is difficult not to relate to them all (note: unless you are emotionally devoid). A beautifully sad common thread that strings these characters together is their dissatisfaction with the way things are. Perhaps the real message behind Liberal Arts is that if you can stop struggling against life, and just go with the flow, you will be happier for it. You will realize that, "Everything is okay," as the ever-present Nat reminds us.
Liberal Arts is not only about love and the intricacies of relationships, it's a celebration of books and music, while also being a great mirror for some self-reflection. It deals with a multitude of subjects such as: morality, grace, rejection, self-esteem, divinity, ethics, and aging. With the jaded perspective of our society being that youth is good and aging in any way, shape, or form is bad, it is uniquely refreshing to hear that aging can be a lovely process that you get to take part in. Beyond just that, I believe that Radnor is also trying to reveal to his audience that any part of life can be enjoyed, even if, or perhaps, especially if, society has marked it as unenjoyable. It is all about your perspective, and how you perceive the event to unfold. In addition to being just blatantly brilliant, Liberal Arts has these delectable morsels of inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout the film. Here are just a few of my favorites: "Any place you don't leave is a prison", "Grace, I realized, is neither time nor place dependent; all we need is the right soundtrack", and "Fortune never smiles on those who say no". These lovely, luminous gems in this soul-satisfying movie carry with them an enduring resonance. Don't be surprised when you find yourself, days later, contemplating them in a reverie.
You can enjoy the ninety-seven minutes of Liberal Arts and then go back to your normal everyday life, or you can fully embrace the sage advice that lives within the movie, let it permeate your soul, and permanently improve the circumstances of your life. Simply allow your mind to ruminate on the heartfelt wisdom of the movie. Let the words and ideas roll around in your head and in your heart, like clothes in a dryer, until they are carefully arranged and neatly folded in your mind. Watching Liberal Arts is like eating a delicately planned out meal in a restaurant. You may not know how it was made, or what exactly is in it, but by the end, you leave with a delightful feeling in your gut, a happy smile on your face, and an overall pleasant feeling of satiety. Feeling like you are in on a life secret. While watching it, you get this feeling that you are basking in greatness; that there is something greater than yourself struggling to emerge. Like any great movie, you walk out of it not only with a huge grin on your face, but also believing that the characters really do exist somewhere out in the world. To me, there is no greater compliment to a writer than that.
It's as if somehow Josh Radnor found his way into your mind, extracted all the worthy treasures of your subconscious, then took everything that you have wanted to express and say to the world, and turned it into this wonderful, heartfelt movie. Pinpointing emotions you didn't know that you had. Extoling wisdom that you wish you had been able to put into words. Josh Radnor is daring to blaze a trail into uncharted territory in Hollywood, creating a genuinely uplifting film. Trying to break down the walls of cliched, predictable, explosion-driven movies, and attempting to build up the confidence of the audience. A rare trait for any filmmaker to exude these days. And he does it with such elegance and grace, finding a way straight into our hearts.