The faculty fathead

Fri, Oct 5, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Josh Radnor. Starring Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser, Zac Efron 12A cert, Cineworld/IFI/ Light House, Dublin, 97 min

IT IS QUITE an achievement to build a film around insular, self-absorbed literary twits – the sorts who bond over David Foster Wallace novels – without causing your audience to throw up in their popcorn. Well, it would be quite an achievement.

The smug, clunky second feature from Josh Radnor – alumnus of How I Met Your Mother and, as he really, really wants us to know, some Ohioan institution called Kenyon College – is the sort of picture that gives education a very bad name. At some point the protagonist describes his alma mater (the college, not the sitcom) as the sort of place where “you can say ‘I’m a poet’ and not get punched”. Oh, if only I were in the cafeteria with my knuckleduster and my cosh. I’d wipe that pre-Raphaelite mope from your face.

In Liberal Arts, a disappointed university administrator (Radnor) journeys from New York City to the liberal arts college (no, beats me too) where he was once happy, sated and pampered. The school is not named, but the picture was filmed at Kenyon and features an absurd cameo from another of the college’s distinguished graduates.

Poor Allison Janney plays a disappointed lecturer who – as lecturers do in bad films – sonorously intones large lumps of William Blake between highballs. Everywhere the divine Josh goes, he encounters such stereotypes and, after exchanging a few brief words, inexplicably finds himself installed as the stock character’s new best friend.

Nobody likes him more than the chatty, well-adjusted young girl (a misused Elizabeth Olsen) who alternates readings of high-brow literature with a scandalous passion for mainstream vampire novels. Before long, they are contemplating what Iago (see, I can do this too) called “the beast with two backs”.

Look, mate. Many of us enjoyed our time at university. Too many of us bore our friends about it. But we don’t make feeble, sentimental, reverential films about the subject. “I echo you on Beethoven: wow!” Josh writes to Elizabeth. I paraphrase you on Liberal Arts, sir: yeugh!

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