Movie review: Liberal Arts

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From the September 27, 2012 edition

“I know Ohio isn’t as glamorous as New York,” observes a character in Josh Radnor’s new film “Liberal Arts.”

Radnor ought to know, but the Bexley-native-turned-TV-star clearly has warm feelings for his Ohio roots, and they’re evident on screen.

“Liberal Arts” is coming-of-age film for those of an age who thought they were supposed to know what the hell they were doing by now. Raise your hand if you relate.

Thirty-something Jesse Fisher (Radnor) is a recruiter at a Manhattan college. The retirement of a former professor (Richard Jenkins) brings Jesse back to his alma mater, a small, unnamed liberal arts college in Ohio.

While there, Jesse strikes up an acquaintance with a fetching undergrad named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). The two start corresponding — via hand-written letters, no less — as friendship becomes flirtation.

Jesse grows smitten, but he’s torn. When Zibby notes their obvious connection despite an age gap, Jesse wonders whether “it’s because you’re advanced or I’m stunted.” The answer is probably a bit of both.

Radnor reportedly hatched the idea for this film during a visit to his alma mater, Kenyon College. The nostalgia that can set in when you walk your old campus permeates the movie.

Radnor is also coming into his own as a writer-director in his second film. There’s still room to grow — this isn’t on par with “The Graduate” — but this is a good film. And I think he has a truly great one in him.

He’s blessed with a superb cast. Olsen — sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley and the finest actress of the family — pulls of that “wisdom beyond her years” that makes the central romance believable. Jenkins and Allison Janney are great in limited screen time.

Bonus points since Radnor is our homeboy, but he’ll make Ohio proud for years to come.