How I Met Your Mother might seem like harmless sitcom fun, but it’s now directly responsible for two entries in the far more egregious “thirtysomethings moping into adulthood” genre. Star Josh Radnor nabs director and writer credits on Liberal Arts, as he did on his debut feature, Happythankyoumoreplease. Both films center around himself as a stunted but noble young man dragging his feet into grown-up responsibility. Here, he returns to his Ohio college for the retirement of a beloved professor (Richard Jenkins), where he falls for a mature-beyond-her-years sophomore (Elizabeth Olsen), mentors a troubled loner (John Magaro) and collides with an icy, jaded literature teacher (Allison Janney).
As a filmmaker, Radnor definitely has a talent for surrounding himself with gifted character actors who almost manage to convince the audience to admire his self-absorbed man-children. Otherwise, everything he’s learned as a director seems to come directly from the “just get it on camera” school of television, as does his wince-inducing tendency to conjure one-note characters like Zac Efron’s magical stoner. Radnor obviously aspires to Woody Allen, but endless scenes of people whining at each other and cheesy montages set to classical music make Allen’s achievements look even more stunning by comparison. “The world’s dirty secret,” Jenkins offers at one point, is that “nobody feels like an adult.” Unfortunately, Radnor feels compelled to spill those beans in the most ponderous fashion.