Story

Jesse (Josh Radnor) is an arts graduate in his 30s. He is on the admissions board at a college, and wants to advance his career. He gets a call from his old professor, Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), asking him to go to Peter’s retirement party at his former college. Jesse returns to the college full of nostalgia and rekindles his passion for the arts. But he doesn’t expect to find a passion for a sophomore, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who is mature beyond her years and who shares his love of the arts. She also introduces him to classical music, and they discover they have much in common.

Having a relationship with someone 16 years younger gives Jesse a lot to think about. He learns from Zibby that he needs to grow up and start acting his age. Meanwhile his former professor is also coming to terms with retirement and having to move on to life outside the university.

Themes

Life transitions; relationships; suicide

Violence

Nothing of concern

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

Nothing of concern 

From 5-8

Nothing of concern 

From 8-13

The theme of suicide features in this movie and might disturb older children in this age group. For example:

  • One of the students at the college, Dean, has mental health problems. He has had a breakdown in the past, and he takes an overdose of pills. Scared, he calls Jesse who immediately calls for an ambulance. Dean doesn’t die.
  • Peter has problems coming to terms with retirement and seems depressed. He mentions jumping off a tall building.

Over 13

Children in this age group might also be disturbed by the attempted suicide and reference to suicide mentioned above. 

Sexual references

This movie has some sexual references. For example, Zibby wants Jesse to spend the night with her. But when she tells him it will be the first time she has had sex, Jesse faces a moral dilemma. 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie shows some use of substances. For example:

  • Characters drink in bars, clubs and so on.
  • Zibby gets drunk after Jesse rejects her, and she starts kissing another man passionately.
  • Professor Fairfield smokes. 

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some sexual activity. For example, Jesse has sex with another of his old professors, Judith Fairfield (Allison Janney). Not much is shown but they make a lot of noise. Afterwards she kicks him out. 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Liberal Arts is a romantic drama that deals with different stages of life and also with growing old. It’s also about the complexities and problems of relationships that have a big age difference. With these themes, the movie is mainly aimed at older teenagers and adults.

The main message from this movie is not to let yourself be blinded by love but to think through the consequences carefully.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:

  • thinking about the consequences of your actions
  • thinking seriously about whether a sexual relationship is the right step.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues, such as why Dean might have felt the way he did. What could have been done to make his situation better?