Set in a prestigious arts college in Ohio, it stars Josh Radnor as Jesse who visits his alma mater and is introduced to Elizabeth Olsen’s Libby (Elizabeth). He also meets a bright student (John Magaro) who is depressive and might do something drastic. He meets up with his former professor of romantic poetry, Judith Fairfield, and they have a brief affair. He goes back to New York and corresponds with Olsen. Richard Jenkins stars as a lecturer who regrets his premature retirement. Jesse also listens to eccentric advice from Zac Efron. There is supposed to be the getting of wisdom at the end.
It starts with Jesse in New York where his partner is about to leave him, telling him that she no longer wants to make him feel good about himself. This movie is all about books but it might as well be called “Depression is an arts course”. The conversations are disappointingly middle brow, nobody says anything really insightful. Olsen is a keen student who wants to take a short cut to maturity by having an affair with a guy fourteen years her senior. She’s the only likeable character in the film. She has a weakness for trashy vampire books and regards Jesse’s put downs of them as snobbish and elitist. This movie keeps emphasizing the bleakness of ageing and the disillusionments therein. Richard Jenkins doesn’t want to retire, and admits he’s been a prisoner of the college for years, he doesn’t know anything else. Judith Fairfield is a professor of romantic poetry and is cynical and dismissive, and her views of the poets is jaded and belittling. She dismisses Jesse as an effete and superannuated student. Clearly he attracts unflattering remarks from women! He also encounters a New Age nerd who appears intense and mystical but is quite irritating. His attempts to be delphic look twee and narcissistic.
Although this film is about literate intelligent people, it doesn’t have much time for classical highbrow literature which it considers can be bad for your mental health. Life is richer and better than literature which can make you depressed. I find this uncongenial and philistine and its defence of pulp trashy novels quite irritating. The best scene is when Jesse walks through New York listening to his i-player, he turns out to be an amateur music critic with pertinent things to say.