Sundance 2012: Josh Radnor's 'Liberal Arts' gets ovation at premiere
Standing ovations are rare at the Sundance Film Festival, but "Liberal Arts" got one here on Sunday.
The film, directed, written by and starring "How I Met Your Mother" lead Josh Radnor, came to the festival with a low profile. While Radnor's debut directoral effort "happythankyoumoreplease" took home the festival's audience award in 2010, the movie failed to translate outside of Park City, Utah, flopping at the box office with just over $200,000 in ticket sales.
Perhaps as a result, there wasn't much buzz about "Liberal Arts," in which Radnor plays Jesse, a thirtysomething pining for his days at Kenyon College, a small school in the Ohio countryside (which the actor actually attended). While visiting an old professor at Kenyon, Jesse meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a bubbly, idealistic sophomore. The two share a passion for reading and begin trading handwritten letters once Jesse heads back to his unfulfilling job in New York City. While Zibby is thrilled to be embarking on a romance with an older guy, Jesse's unease over the age difference begins to complicate things.
At a party after the screening, Radnor was glowing over the positive reception to the film.
"I mean, I was prepared for any eventuality. But it was great," he said. (You can watch a video interview with the actor below.) "I could really feel that [the audience] were really with it."
Olsen said her interest in the film began after her agent -- also Radnor's -- presented her with his script. Following her emotionally intense performance in the cult drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene" last year and two other similarly dark films, the actress said she was eager to sign on to "Liberal Arts."
"I didn't want to put myself through torture after three traumatic movies," she said. "I wanted to do something fun and lighthearted, with lots of heart."
It seems likely that "Liberal Arts" will be picked up by a distributor, and Fox Searchlight was already expressing early interest in the picture Sunday evening. That would only be further validation for Radnor, who said people had been coming up to him after the screening and telling him to continue making movies.
"That's the most encouraging thing," the 37-year-old said. "And I think the first time the perception was like, 'Oh, an actor made a movie.' ... So now it feels like I have a little more momentum as a person who writes and directs movies, and that's great, because I want to keep doing it."
Photo: Josh Radnor, top left, poses with "Liberal Arts" cast members Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Olsen and Allison Janney. Credit: Victoria Will / Associated Press