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Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts film posterSynopsis

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.

Criticism

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.

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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Young Adult

Young Adult posterSynopsis

This film, produced by Juno director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary who was a prom queen at her school in Mercury, Minnesota.  Twenty years on she is a writer of children’s books.  She is a divorcee, an alcoholic, and she pulls hair out of her head.  She meets up with a former student, Matt Freehauf played by Patton Oswalt, who’d been beaten up on the mistaken assumption that he was gay.  He is the plump nerd who worships the prom queen.  Theron’s scheme is to win back her former boyfriend Buddy, played by Patrick Wilson.  He is happily married and has a child.  Theron causes embarrassment at the christening…

Criticism

This is about the potentially hazardous business of the nostalgic return to earlier life.  Theron is dissatisfied with her situation and she wants a triumph, to snatch her ex-boyfriend from his wife.  She is so confident of her ability to do that, one is persuaded that arrogance and vanity are beside the point, it’s something that has to happen.  Theron’s cheekbones don’t seem that high, so it’s the nose and eyes, right?  She treats (plump nerd) with polite disdain, then a sort of friendliness as she learns what happened to him.  This film spurns the chance to be a direct comedy of manners, it lacks wit and perception.  Theron should be the charismatic gang leader and trend setter who everybody wants to be with, the sort of superbitch whose jokes everyone laughs at, and whose cruelty everyone wants to preen themselves on her reflected glory, but here she’s a psychological accident zone and ends up looking petulantly sad.  Apart from the amiable Patrick Wilson, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time with any of these people, they are stuck in a provincial rut and don’t care to leave it.  Minneapolis is the big city they dream of.

When a person returns to their alma mater, what can happen is either embarrassment, revenge, expiation, or appeasement.  Ironically, the embarrassment comes from the ex-prom queen but the characters whose lives are mundane, see no reason to apologise for anything.  Revenge is a non starter since no-one has done her any harm.  Expiation is not in order, though Theron should apologise for her behaviour.  Appeasement is unnecessary since there are no outstanding concerns.  Theron presumably blames Wilson for not guaranteeing her present happiness, but was he expected to wait?  There don’t seem to be any Sliding Door moments in this film, no painful entering into a fateful decision.  It’s all well enough acted but there’s the feeling of a missed opportunity.

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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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