Chronic youth

'Liberal Arts' and other new releases take on aging (gracefully and otherwise). Plus: a new action-sports film fest.

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Liberal Arts
PHOTO BY KEVIN MOSS

cheryl@sfbg.com

FILM It can't be a coincidence that within a week, a pair of films have been released about 35-year-olds who contemplate hooking up with 19-year-olds. That 16-year age gap — with an immature or other otherwise emotionally stunted thirtysomething on one end, and a precocious millennial on the other — is narrow enough to be plausible, but just wide enough to be awkward.

Now in theaters, Hello I Must Be Going traces the existential flailings of Amy (Melanie Lynskey), so discombobulated post-divorce that she moves back home and takes up with Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), the son of one of her father's potential clients. Despite their chic Connecticut lifestyle, Mom (Blythe Danner) and Dad (John Rubinstein) have been hit by the recession; Amy's self-pitying second adolescence only makes the household tension worse. Meanwhile, her hot, clandestine fling with Jeremy, an uninhibited actor, is tested less by their age difference than by his connection to the lucrative account that Amy's father is desperately trying to land. Of course, there is a cringe-worthy scene where Amy crashes a party, looking for Jeremy, and the bleary-eyed youth who answers the door announces "Someone's mom is here!"

This week's Liberal Arts reverses the genders of the controversial couple, with Jesse (How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed) falling for Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a student at the leafy Ohio university he graduated from years before (never named, but filmed at Kenyon College, Radnor's own alma matter). The two meet when Jesse, now a jaded Brooklynite, visits to celebrate the retirement of Professor Hoberg (Richard Jenkins); unlike Hello's Amy and Jeremy, who waste no time knocking boots, the question of whether to consummate the relationship becomes a major plot point.

Liberal Arts is at its best when delineating a specific type of collegiate experience — as safe, privileged bubble where, as Jesse explains, you can announce "I'm a poet!" without anyone punching you in the face. It can also be an oppressive space, as illustrated by a cranky prof who feels trapped by academia (a razor-sharp Lucinda Janney), and a morose classmate of Zibby's who identifies a little too closely with David Foster Wallace.

And it's stuff like the Wallace references (again, never named — just identified via heavily dropped hints, for all the cool viewers to catch) that're ultimately Liberal Arts' undoing. Radnor explores some interesting themes, but the film is full of indie-comedy tropes — the friendly stoner (Zac Efron) who randomly appears to dispense life lessons; an anti-Twilight rant that's a bit too pleased with itself; the unusually attractive character who appears in the first act and is obviously destined for inclusion in the inevitable happy ending.

By contrast, "airless" and "predictable" are not words anyone would use to describe the life of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, colorfully recounted in Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, a doc directed by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. The family connection meant seemingly unlimited access to material featuring the unconventionally glamorous (and highly quotable) Vreeland herself, plus the striking images that remain from her work at Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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