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Let's Rush To Judgment: 'Liberal Arts'

Josh Radnor has been playing the much-maligned — and I would perhaps say overly maligned — Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother since 2005. We've known for a while that he's ultimately interested in being a filmmaker — his 2010 film Happythankyoumoreplease got mixed reviews, but won an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Now, he's back with Liberal Arts, co-starring Elizabeth Olsen, whose last big splash wasMartha Marcy May Marlene. It opens in limited release in the U.S. on September 14.

I see two possible gut-level problems with this film. First, what Radnor is doing here reminds me far too much of the ultimately unsatisfying path taken by Zach Braff (uch), whose Garden State I liked, but who then appeared in some really annoying stuff, especially the icky trapped-between-two-supermodels fantasy The Last Kiss, which he didn't write or direct but which is frankly gross anyway.

The second problem is that the trailer reminds me too much of a lot of other indie films, especially those containing — and pardon me for employing this term, which is now a cliche, but it applies — the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It doesn't help that Radnor has taken a character who's already younger than he is and called her "Zibby." Which probably sounds perfectly fine on the women who are actually named Zibby (who do exist), but which can sound in an indie movie like either it's made up to sound whimsical or it's perhaps a hamster's name. In other words, I don't think it's inherently a silly name, but I fear that the script thinks it's a "fun" name.

On the other hand, Josh Radnor is not Zach Braff, and it's not his fault they're both dark-haired young dudes who came out of sitcom success to direct indie movies about tortured dark-haired young dudes tempted by young and beautiful waifs.

And while I really only know Olsen from Marcy so far, she does seem like a wonderfully earthy actress, even in this trailer, and I'm not sure they're playing the notes of wackiness that so often make the MPDG frustrating. As much as I don't like that cliche, I also don't want to see every young actress shoved into it just because she happens to be young and involved in a romantic plot. With a mope. And named "Zibby."

On the other-other hand, there has to be a way of structuring a trailer so it doesn't seem quite so much like every other trailer.

What do you think?

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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