I don’t know if this is true if you didn’t go to a small, liberal arts school, but I did, more or less, and there were times in the years since graduation where the Avenue Q song “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” defined my life.
I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are.
You sit in the quad, and think, “Oh my God!
I am totally gonna go far!”
Josh Radnor is a few years older than me, but in Liberal Arts, his Jesse Fisher is also looking for “an academic advisor to point the way”. He works in college admissions in New York, and he gets a call from an old professor (Richard Jenkins, perfection as usual), inviting him back for his retirement celebration.
Back at his alma mater he meets 19 year old Zibby (yes, it is a ridiculous name, but you don’t care very much because she’s played by Elizabeth Olsen) & they strike up a friendship. It’s about wishing you could go back to college, and working out why that is not an awesome idea.
Liberal Arts is not breaking any new ground, but it’s a pleasant film, elevated by its cast, which in addition to the aforementioned includes Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser, and a scene-stealing turn by Zac Efron (no, really). There’s dialogue about how no one is really grown-up, but you have people like Richard Jenkins saying it, which makes it okay. It’s a dose of nostalgia and a cure for it all at once.
(I should mention that I do not watch “How I Met Your Mother”, and so I do not know what effect that might have on your experience watching a Josh Radnor film. So there you go. Also, I would like copies of the CDs Zibby sends Jesse, so if someone could get on that, that would be awesome.)
I saw Liberal Arts on a Monday evening at SIFF, and the next day I saw Todd Luiso’s film Hello I Must Be Going.
On the surface, Hello I Must Be Going is the same story, but with the gender roles reversed. Instead of going back to college after a breakup, Amy (Melanie Lynskey in a fantastic performance) goes back home after her divorce, which is as helpful for her mental health as you might imagine.
At an insufferable dinner party she meets 19 year old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a young presumed-gay actor who is the only other person at the party interested in being an actual human being. They connect, and then struggle to hide this bizarre relationship from both sets of parents.
Of the two, Liberal Arts is the most straight-forward accessible picture, but Hello I Must Be Going is the better film. I’m disappointed by its terrible IMDb score. The film is hard on Amy — she’s at a much lower point in her life when Hello begins than Jesse is in Arts, and she still has farther to fall, but it’s a much more interesting journey and a braver performance.
Liberal Arts continues at SIFF at the Uptown.
Hello I Must Be Going continues at Regal Meridian.