A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: September 14, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: December 18, 2012
- Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Josh Radnor, Richard Jenkins
- Director: Josh Radnor
- Studio: IFC Entertainment
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual content including references, mature thematic material, and some teen drinking
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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