Liberal Arts Movie Poster Image

Liberal Arts

Thoughtful romance mulls impact of large age difference.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Love can strike anytime and anywhere -- but in the real world, not every pairing can work, even between people who get along wonderfully. This film examines the possibilities of a May-December flirtation between a young college girl and a man approaching middle age, who wonder whether love is enough to sustain them. They think carefully and thoughtfully about the implications and make well-reasoned decisions.

Positive role models

Jesse is clearly torn between his attraction to a charming, eager college student and his realization that she's 16 years his junior, and a relationship with her may not be good for either of them.

Not applicable

A college student discusses whether she should sleep with an older man. A couple has a one-night stand, with some brief sex sounds that take place in the dark. People are shown after having sex. A couple kisses warmly.


Relatively infrequent swearing includes "screw," "p---y," "sucks," and "screw you." Two people flip each other off.


The film promotes Kenyon College, where it was filmed.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some drinking at meals and social events, and a bit more drinking at college parties. One woman lights up a cigarette after sex.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Liberal Arts centers on the budding relationship between a teenage college girl and a man in his mid-30s and looks at whether they can make things work despite the significant age difference. Don't expect any teen-sex comedy cliches -- this thoughtful film starring writer-director Josh Radnor (from the sitcom How I Met Your Mother) and Elizabeth Olsen, tackles the question realistically, and the couple works through their obvious attraction and the equally obvious hurdles they face. Expect some swearing and drinking, and one sex scene that takes place in the dark but has some very obvious sounds.

What's the story?

Jesse (Josh Radnor) returns to his alma mater to visit a favorite professor and becomes beguiled by Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a mature-beyond-her-years sophomore. But they're both torn by the 16-year age difference between them that may make a real relationship impossible. The more time they spend together, the clearer it is that they have a real connection, but it also becomes obvious that a May-December pairing, while romantic in theory, is hard in real life. And soon they're going to have make some hard choices.

Is it any good?


The ideas that propel LIBERAL ARTS are interesting and even mildly thought-provoking. Who among us hasn't, at some point, tired of the daily grind of a grown-up life? Especially one like Jesse's: He's in an unimpressive apartment in a difficult city interviewing pre-collegiate kids full of hope, kids with so much ahead of them. It's these observations that make Liberal Arts a joy to watch. That and its circuitous but still refreshing plot in search of a happy ending. Everything until Jesse finds himself alone with Zibby in her dorm room has spark, the crackle of possibility. (Plus, Richard Jenkins! The man elevates anything he's in.) And its hard left turn into a direction different from what you might expect is surprising in a pleasant way.

Still, what does come next seems moot at that point, and Liberal Arts loses its footing a bit. The ending feels like an afterthought; we want to be back in the thick of Zibby and Jesse's flirtation, back when something beautiful appears all too possible. But alas. Isn't it pretty to think so?

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what Liberal Arts is saying about love and relationships. What's the impact of a significant age difference on a couple?

  • Should people get second chances when they make a poor decision?

  • Who do you think the film's target audience is? Why do you say that?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 14, 2012
DVD/Streaming release date:December 18, 2012
Cast:Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Radnor, Richard Jenkins
Director:Josh Radnor
Studio:IFC Entertainment
Run time:97 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sexual content including references, mature thematic material, and some teen drinking

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Adult Written bywonder dove July 27, 2013

Excellent film!

I wanted to see this movie so bad and finally did. I liked it, but was expecting a little more out of it. It was refreshing and real, none of that teen romance chick flick stuff. Some quotes in the film really stuck with me, characters were easy-going and enlightening. I loved the genuine feel throughout. Elizabeth Olsen is simply wonderful and her character was very down to earth. It's basically about an upbeat college student named Zibby (Olsen) who meets a kind man in his mid 30's who's visiting his favorite professor where he went to college. Both instantly attracted to each other, they wind up spending a lot of time together. When they part for a short while, they keep their friendship alive by writing real handwritten letters to each other (no emails or other use of technology) sharing stories and more until they need to see each other again. However, their age difference interferes with their desire to get closer and ultimately, in the end, they must make a huge choice. It's a tad slow sometimes but you really get into the story because it's that great! Violence is not an issue at all. Language is not a big deal, some common words throughout but no "f" words except for the middle finger. Sexual content includes some talk about sleeping with older men, a one night stand shown in the dark with some sex sounds but not explicit, gentle flirting and innocent kissing. There is drinking at college parties, a girl gets hungover. Smoking is mild. Perfectly fine for 13+!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bystudboy24 June 16, 2014

Liberal Arts

I first wanted to see this movie because it was a film by Josh Radnor from Himym (How i Met Your Mother). But the film became so much more than that. It was interesting, funny, and kept your attention most of the film. The movie also had strong supporting cast such as Zach Efron, and Allison Janney. So I think that it is a very good movie and is not that inappropriate and is good but I think that it might be boring for younger viewers just because there isn't any action that makes them want to sit through it. The only bad part is one of the characters is depressed and some stuff happens in the film. But the film has a great message which is be yourself and love can conquer anything such as age and long distance. Also Josh Radnor's character is a good role model because he is nice and helps when people is in need. Also he didn't sleep with a girl because he had feeling and he respected her too much. Finally there is one scene that he has a one night stand but it doesn't have anything graphic. I very recommend you to see this movie. I enjoyed it a lot.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking