Something made me twitch a bit during my second viewing of Josh Radnor‘s Liberal Arts (IFC Films, 9.14), which I wrote admiring things about in early July and before that at Sundance last January. I’m speaking of a slight aversion to what I regard as an excessive amount of dewy-eyed sensitivity in Radnor — not only in the character he’s playing (a 35 year-old college admissions guy) but in his own temperament, as he’s the director-writer and is presumably drawing from the well.
The story is about Radnor visiting his college and falling into an infatuation with a 19 year-old sophomore (Elizabeth Olsen) and getting all glum and guilt-trippy about it. A voice inside was saying “will you ease with the sensitive shit and just tap it already?” I mentioned last month that I have a certain perspective as I felt a bit funny about having a relationship with a 19 year-old when I was 28. It does feel weird. Then again life is short and we all know Olsen will probably experience much more caring and compassion from Radnor than she would from some 19 or 20-year-old horndog.
And so I started to feel a bit impatient with Radnor’s girlyman hesitancy. He needs a little Vince Vaughn, some unregenerate guy-ness to round things out. You get the idea he doesn’t have a lot of primal energy inside him. Radnor is Woody Allen-esque but not as funny — he’s just not as good with the zingers and the comebacks. He’s all about being mental and morose and oh-so-attuned.
Radnor and Olsen are 16 years apart, and perhaps the best scene in the whole film is when Radnor figures out some equations. When I was 19 she was 3…bad. When I’m 41 or 42 Olsen will be 25 or 26…a little sketchy. But when I’m 50 she’ll be 34…a tiny bit better. When I’m 60 she’ll be 44…excellent! When I’m 70 she’ll be 54…perfect! When I’m 80 she’ll be 64…let’s get married right now! It can’t last? Maybe not, but what in life is guaranteed to be a long-term thing?
My thing with the 19 year-old when I was 28 was pretty wonderful, by the way. I did have a concern when she wound up dumping me after 18 months or so. I was devastated, in fact, but that’s life. All’s fair, rough and tumble, no assurances.