Liberal Arts is a charming indie written and directed by Josh Radnor. It looks like a straightforward love story in the trailer below, but it’s not exactly that. It’s a love story, but there’s no sex, hardly any kissing, and lots of moral choice involved in deciding who to love. Liberal Arts is also a story about where we belong in life, what we are meant to do, how to find happiness, and – most importantly – which books are best to read in every situation.
Josh Radner plays Jesse Fisher, an admissions officer in a college, but not the college in the story. Also in the film are Elizabeth Olsen as Zibby, the young coed you see charming Jesse in the preview. Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney are professors at the college in the tale. The parts Jenkins and Janney have are small but nuanced and add sub themes to the story about life and its meaning. Elizabeth Reaser as Ana isn’t shown in the preview, but you know from the first moment you see her in her bookstore that she’ll be an important part of the story, and indeed, she is.
I want to call out Zac Efron for his loopy portrayal of Nat – another small part that brings richness to Jesse’s quest to find purpose and love. Efron really shines as Nat, a character so unusual that Jesse asks him at one point, “Are you real?”
This film is full of seemingly small parts that add up to an elegant total. It’s one of the most fascinating features of the film: interesting actors in small parts that ultimately have an impact on how Jesse’s journey concludes.
The film was released in 2012. It’s currently available on Netflix. I absolutely recommend it.