Exclusive Review of “Liberal Arts”

Steve and Melody Philpot outside of the Egyptian Theater in Ogden, Utah for a showing of Josh Radnor's film Liberal Arts.

Who is this lovely couple, you ask?  They are none other than Melody and Steve Philpot, parents of Cris Philpot ’12.  Wouldn’t ya know it, they live in Ogden, Utah, which happens to be one of the homes of the famous Sundance Film Festival.  Even better, they were kind enough to write us a review of Kenyon alum Josh Radnor’s new film Liberal Arts. Read their take on the film after the jump.

It’s that time of year – the Sundance Film Festival has arrived, giving the people of Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah something to enjoy to forget about the dreary January weather. We were fortunate that Liberal Arts was one of the films that we got to see at the Egyptian Theater in our hometown of Ogden on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

The film’s locations were New York City and Gambier, Ohio. The scenery at Kenyon, as usual, was stunning.  The main character, is Jesse, a 35-year-old played by Josh Radnor, who is a Kenyon grad in real life and in the film (although they never mention the name of the college in the movie). Jesse is invited by his “second favorite” professor to come and speak at his retirement dinner.  (You’ll get to know his favorite professor as well.)  Jesse jumps at the chance; he is disillusioned with his life in New York and is excited to go back to a place he connects with. The minute he arrives, he is practically dancing down Middle Path.

Jesse is introduced to a beautiful and bright female student, Zibby, 19 years old, played by Elizabeth Olsen. There is definitely some kind of attraction as they roam the campus, deep in conversation. They have coffee at MiddleGround, eat at Peirce in the Great Hall, spend time in the Church of the Holy Spirit enjoying the peacefulness and say goodbye at the Bookstore. Jesse is amazed by the wisdom and honesty that Zibby displays. Jesse knows that he better get back to New York after their first meeting, avoiding the emotional confusion that meeting Zibby has brought on.

There are several other great side stories going on in the movie as Jesse works his way through his feelings about Zibby and what to do, and each one of them adds to the fullness of the story.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie, and one that got the whole audience laughing, was when he was sitting by himself, trying to work out the age difference between himself and Zibby on paper.

The film speaks to everyone, covering various stages of their lives. On screen, we see the archetypal college student (Zibby) – full of ideas and aware of her beginnings and the choices she is making. Meanwhile, Jesse, who is out in the world getting a little beat up, might need reminding that there are still new discoveries and journeys to make.  Finally, Radnor address the age of retirement – so ready to retire and be free, viewing employment as a prison but afraid of what is on the outside.

As we were walking out of the theater, one of our friends commented, regarding how the characters in the film decided to meet the next morning for coffee, “They didn’t say where they were going to meet for coffee. How did they know where to go?”

We just laughed and replied, “MiddleGround, where else?”  We enjoyed visiting Kenyon once again. There are beautiful shots of various buildings as they walk the campus, including Ascension, Peirce and the Church of the Holy Spirit.

We can wholeheartedly recommend Liberal Arts, and anyone who knows Kenyon College will love seeing all the places they’ll recognize.

7 responses

  1. I am excited for this movie.

    But can I just say, that I really don’t know how they’re going to pull of the age difference thing without being vaguely creepy unless Liberal Arts has the cinematic brilliance of Woody Allen’s Manhattan (which I somehow doubt).

    And even then.

    Still creepy.

    • I don’t know, she’s of-age and he’s cute and things happen. To make a “Collected Stories” reference (soo relevant via this clip being filmed in The Hill), how do we know the girl doesn’t have agency in the relationship? Isn’t she a thinking person too? He’s not her professor or her boss or any other kind of formal superior so the romance (or whatever) is not necessarily problematic.

      If we’re gonna argue about age and power we might as well argue about gender and power –both come with their own sets of sexual hierarchies.

      No final judgements until I see the movie, though.

      • *Trying* to hold judgements until the I see the movie as well.

        Elizabeth Olsen’s character may well have agency. I have a feeling she probably does. Relationships with a great age difference can totally work and are not necessarily uneven in power.

        My main problem is that it seems like a kind of weak story line and the enactment of a very indulgent one at that. I’m more creeped out by the solipsism that seems to be fueling the narrative.

        But who knows. Maybe I will be totally blown me a way by the complex and smart dialogue.

  2. Great review1 I wish we would gone. It would have been worth it to see Kenyon where Chris goes to school.
    Doris Lane (Chris’s grandmother)

  3. Pingback: “Liberal Arts” to Have Kenyon Premier on Sept. 1 « The Thrill

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