Sitcom star goes back to school in 'Liberal Arts'

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

Josh Radnor is best known as the narrator and one of the stars of the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." But his best work, until now, was his directorial debut, the quirky and sweet 2010 film "happythankyoumoreplease," which he also starred in and wrote. He's taken the same hands-on approach to his second independent film, "Liberal Arts." It won't appeal to as many people as his popular CBS sitcom. But, as the character he plays in this film knows, one must stand behind the culture one believes is best -- whether or not you come across as a snob for your enthusiasm.

Radnor is Jesse Fisher, a New York City college admissions officer who can't help but feel he hasn't fulfilled his promise. He's reminded of the things he really loves -- books, music, civilization -- when he returns to his alma mater. ("Liberal Arts" was filmed at the liberal arts institution Kenyon College, which Radnor himself also attended.)

He goes back to Ohio to honor one of his mentors as he retires. But Professor Peter Hoberg (the always-great Richard Jenkins) is even more in love with this place of learning than his former student, and isn't at all happy at being forced out. The English prof is happy to see Jesse again, however, and introduces him to a student. The 19-year-old Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) has the same love as Jesse for high culture -- she is devoted to classical music -- though she's not immune to the tastes of other girls her age. Yes, her age must be noted again -- Jesse is 35, after all.

On screen
'Liberal Arts'
3 out of 4 stars
Stars: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron
Director: Josh Radnor
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 97 minutes

He returns to New York, but can't stop thinking about Zibby, and everything the budding actress represents about what he once wanted for himself. They write each other letters, substituting for the sort of all-night, heady conversations they would have had if they had been college students together.

You can tell from this summary whether the film is likely to interest you. If it does, you won't be disappointed. Radnor has a wisdom beyond his still-young years, and a talent for communicating it. He's also given "High School Musical"'s Zac Efron one of the most interesting roles he'd ever had, as another college student. Olsen was stunning in last year's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," and she's just as entrancing here.

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Kelly Jane Torrance

Washington Examiner Movie Critic
The Washington Examiner