DVD Review: “Liberal Arts”

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Among big fans of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, of which I am one, there’s a bit of a groundswell of those who strongly dislike the main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor.) He’s frequently bashed as douchey, smug and pretentious, and not only because of continuing fan frustration that, seven years in, we still don’t know who the mother is.

The legions of Ted-haters really aren’t going to like “Liberal Arts,” a new movie written and directed by Radnor himself, in which he plays a character even douchier and more pretentious than Ted. And even worse, the movie presents douchiness and pretension as supreme virtues.

It’s a shame, since Radnor’s first film as director, last year’s “happythankyoumoreplease,” was actually quite good.

Radnor stars as a 35-year-old college admissions officer who lives the Brooklyn hipster lifestyle, with a weakness for opera, highbrow literature and other such affectations. Lured back to his Ohio college for the retirement dinner of his favorite professor (Richard Jenkins), he forms a quick bond with a cute sophomore (Elizabeth Olson). They soon begin exchanging handwritten letters, because I guess using typewriters was a step too far.

Also hanging around are Zac Efron as a mysterious stoner, and John Magaro (from the David Chase music movie “Not Fade Away”) as a troubled undergraduate trying to make his way through “Infinite Jest.” Radnor also finds potential love interests in an aging professor (Allison Janney) and a bookstore girl (Elisabeth Reaser).

A writer/director/star, casting himself as the guy who’s irresistible to all sorts of women? Woody Allen’s been pulling that trick for about 40 years.

Olson was fantastic in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and in this film, while very appealing, she veers dangerously close to Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, especially in the way the plot resolves itself.

Ultimately, I just had no interest in spending any time with these people. After all, Radnor’s just not that enjoyable on screen without Barney, Marshall, Lilly and Robin around him.

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