Thoughts on Liberal Arts

The man himself.

“Stop over-thinking everything.” “You’re talking to the wrong guy.”

She was there all along. Before I get to all of that and really discussing this film, let me just get a few things out of the way. I am so proud of Ted Mosby himself, Josh Radnor. In case you didn’t know, not only does the man star in this film, but he also wrote and directed the film. It’s his sophomore effort after the just okay “HappyThankYouMorePlease.” This is a film that just connected with me and that I absolutely adored. Radnor’s whole style, behind the camera and with the pen, just tells me how much I have in common with the man. I’ve always related with his character on How I Met Your Mother, and here the character he plays, Jesse, is not too far off of one Ted Mosby. The man is such an intelligent, romantic that I see a lot of myself in him. It is never more evident than when he exchanges the piece of dialogue that I quoted above.

In said conversation, he exchanges words with a really, really young Elizabeth Olsen, who plays a character named Elizabeth but who everyone just calls Zibby. A big part of their relationship has to do with the fact that Jesse is 35 and Elizabeth is 19(!). Jesse wonders out loud whether their relationship is caused by him being stunted or her just being advanced. Elizabeth assures him that it’s because she is advanced while Jesse throws in that it probably also has a little to do with him being stunted. Personally, I don’t believe that it’s just a combination of both but rather it IS both. He is stunted and she is advanced.

So Jesse travels back home to Ohio from New York in order to attend a former Professor’s retirement party. On his trip he encounters very different personalities. It’s a little cliché that he touches the lives of so many people on this trip and certain people touch him. Sure it’s almost like living in a dream world, but Jesse and Radnor are dreamers, it’s evident all over the film and screenplay. From the way New York is shot, where everything moves so fast, even Radnor as he chases a man who has just stolen his laundry, to the way things are in Ohio. In Ohio, time almost slows down, everything is so lush, one is able to appreciate simple things like grass and trees. Here he meets several personalities, like Dean, a young genius with depression problems who Radnor extends his hands to. An always likeable Zac Efron also appears and his appearance is perfectly summed up by Jesse, “I’m not even sure you’re real.” He also has several encounters and even a fling with an old Professor that reveals a lot about why she was his favorite Professor and why he should possibly put some armor up around that gushy heart.

However, all of that plays second fiddle to the main attraction which is the relationship between Jesse and Elizabeth. She is such a cutie that you never ask yourself at all why he is attracted to her. There are just so many beautiful and honest montages between the two. There’s a scene where he’s back in New York and scribbling on a piece of paper that reminded me so much of myself. In it he is writing down his age and her age, doing the math, seeing how old she was during certain points in his life and how old she will be during certain points in his life. It’s things like that I catch myself doing all of the time.

There’s also a beautiful montage where she asks him to write her a hand-written letter. They go back and forth with the two of them receiving the letters and reading them, living their lives all the while we hear the narration of the letters. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of narration so it had me as soon as Radnor opened his mouth. They try to convey how much better things are without all the technology, e-mails and text messages we are currently engulfed in. There’s something so beautiful about a hand-written letter I have to agree. The scene keeps a smile on your face and makes you long for that feeling of a relationship just getting its feet under it. There are complications but it’s never cliché, rather honest. The age difference is the huge elephant in the room that cannot be ignored. I applaud his self-control and ability to just say no because while the two do share a strong connection, something about that does feel a bit wrong and Jesse/Radnor does see that. I won’t get too much into what happens between them, but I will say that it was refreshing to see the way things played out. The next paragraph however, I will get into spoiler territory so be warned.

So, she was there along, let’s get into that now. The she I was referring to is the always reliable and beautiful Elizabeth Reaser, who here, plays Ana, a woman who works at a New York bookstore. From the beginning of the movie, we see small glimpses of her, even before Radnor meets Zibby. Jesse goes into the book store, reads a book, headphones in ears sometimes, gets lost in thought all the while she looks at him, admiring him. This happens twice, on film, before the two actually meet. She has a very easy smile and one that just puts one on your face as well. I said spoiler warning so beware, Radnor and Olsen do not end up together, let’s just get that right out of the way. I loved that because things never go as you planned them. She was not however, just another girl in his life. She was necessary and despite her age, she helped him grow and prepared him for the next stage. She will maintain the crush on him, wondering why the 18-22 year olds in her life and at her college are so immature, but as I said earlier, the age difference can’t really be ignored. As Radnor observed, when HE was 19, she was 3. There’s something about that, that you can’t really get past.

So, Radnor returns to New York, enters the book store after hours and the rest is history. Seriously, Jesse an Ana have such quick chemistry and there is such an initial attraction that makes it so believable and as Radnor notes, “She’s age appropriate.” The two go for a walk, staying up all night, and share such a beautiful final scene where the two discuss getting older and how it might not be so bad after all. This is such a beautiful film that exceeded my crazy expectations and made me feel good about being the way I am. I do over-think things, I do like standing out and being intellectual, and yes, I am a bit stunted but I also think that getting older is a beautiful thing. Kudos to Josh Radnor, keep it going, this is a very exciting step for him and such a beautiful chapter in his career catalog. So…while the man is still a little stunted, there’s no doubt that Radnor has found his voice as a director and writer, and I can only look forward to what this man will do next.

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