RB score: 10/10.
“Liberal Arts” is like an oasis of charm in the desert of reality TV and movie trash. There are really no negatives and it earns a score of 10/10.
The movie opens slow with 30something admissions officer Jesse Fisher, facing the camera from behind his desk, meeting with a series of college applicants. The audience doesn’t see the hopeful applicants. Either the studio was trying to save money on bit parts or it was a deliberate filmmaking device. Regardless, it conveys a certain tone. Boredom is evident on his face while he goes through the motions. The one sided dialogue is strictly a set of cliches at this point, giving almost no clue to the richness of the material that awaits.
Then, after Jesse travels back to his college campus for his former professor’s retirement dinner, the audience is transported along with him to that place and time in life where “anything is possible.” That sense of excitement about life’s possibility is conveyed many times during the movie, both in subtle and unsubtle ways. For me the most enjoyable aspect was represented in the various supporting characters, the sort you can only encounter in contexts where people are free to be who they really are. Often this context will be a college campus but it doesn’t have to be.
The themes and personalities contained in this journey are admittedly not original. Yet, somehow, the treatment feels original, or at least, thoroughly captivating. The excellent supporting players and superb script deliver an exquisitely crafted ensemble view into the world of looking back while trying to move forward in life. And speaking of the script, what a work of art – intelligent, sensitive, and humorous without ever descending into the maudlin. The real genius of this movie is the writing of characters with humanity and real-world complexity. This movie aptly demonstrates that difficult issues don’t always have to be handled in a dark or depressing manner in order to avoid being trivialized.
Advertised as being a comedic treatment of the relationship between characters who are 35 and 19, there is an obvious ick factor that the movie has to address. To explain further would be a spoiler. Address it they did, and very skillfully. In fact, all the familiar themes of this movie are handled with similar skill, the result being a satisfying treatment that is dignified as opposed to sordid. While there are many humorous moments, “Liberal Arts” deserves to be categorized as something more than a mainstream romantic comedy. Probably because of the exemplary script that offers many quotable moments, I’d argue this movie deserves to become a classic.