Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Nobody Walks vs. Liberal Arts, two Sundance hits that explore the dangers of 30-something dudes interacting with nubile young women.
Premise Nobody Walks concerns the relationship between Martine (Olivia Thirlby), a 23-year-old artist working on a hilariously pretentious-seeming art film—the glimpse of which we see shows two scorpions fighting in high-relief black and white—who comes to Los Angeles to stay with a friend of a friend, Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her husband, Peter (John Krasinski). Peter helps Martine out with sound design, and because she is young and super-hot, he has to fight his attraction to her. Meanwhile, Julie has her own extramarital temptations to deal with: what seems to be one of her patients (Justin Kirk) describes a sex dream he has about her, then flashes her a don’t-say-no smile at a party and tells her he wants to be alone with her. Lots of near-kisses ensue in the trailer; we’re given to believe the film leaves a little less to the imagination.
In Liberal Arts, Josh Radnor plays Jesse, a 35-year-old high-school guidance counselor who’s invited back to his alma mater for his father’s retirement dinner. While there, he meets Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a 19-year-old sophomore, and the two of them strike up a romance. And that’s about it! People disapprove, Jesse feels conflicted, etc. Hopefully the younger-woman-teaches-older-man-what’s-truly-important plotline plays out better than it did in the The Last Kiss. We’re still wary of any film where the female lead exists mostly to bolster the male lead’s sense of self—Olsen doesn’t seem to verge into full-blown MPDG territory here, but she’s flirting with it; and the film’s tagline (“Sometimes students make the best teachers”) gives us pause, too. Advantage: Nobody Walks
The 30-Something Dude Both Krasinski and Radnor are obviously best-known for their extremely successful, long-running sitcom roles; they’ve been playing The Office‘s Jim Halpert and How I Met Your Mother‘s Ted Mosby, respectively, for seven years each. And they’ve both dabbled in directing—Radnor with this film and the little-seen 2010 indie joint Happythankyoumoreplease; Krasinski with some episodes of The Office and the little-seen 2009 David Foster Wallace adaptation Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. When you take into account their film roles, though, Krasinski’s is the more impressive résumé; he’s been a lead (in Away We Go, Big Miracle) and a strong support (It’s Complicated; Dreamgirls) in a number of films, while Radnor’s only other big-screen role was in his own directorial debut. Advantage: Nobody Walks
The Nubile Young Woman Nobody Walks‘ Olivia Thirlby is just great! She was good in Juno, Margaret, and The Wackness, and we’ve got high hopes for the next year or so in her career, which will see her in Red Knot with Vincent Kartheiser, Mystery White Boy (the Jeff Buckley biopic not starring Penn Badgley), and some enigmatic project simply called The Movie. As good as our vibes are towards Thirlby, though, there’s no denying that Elizabeth Olsen is the hot young actress of the moment, after her breakout role in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, which racked up 21 awards and nominations for the actress. (Personally, we’ve been watching her career since her small but scene-stealing role as “Girl in Car” in 1994 TV movie How the West was Fun, a film helmed by her older sisters, Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen.) Advantage: Liberal Arts
Supporting Cast This is a tough category! Besides Krasinski, Thirlby, and the excellent Rosemarie DeWitt Nobody Walks features Suburgatory star (and Interview friend-crush object) Jane Levy, Dylan McDermott, and Justin Kirk, whom we have loved since—we’ll admit it—short-lived sitcom Jack & Jill, on through Angels in America and Weeds, and on whose account we are willing to give the abysmal-looking Animal Practice a three-episode shot. But Liberal Arts includes the very good Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney, Interview pal Elizabeth Reaser—and Zac Efron in what we’re told is actually a very good performance! There’s no calling this one. Advantage: Tie
Writing and DirectionRadnor himself wrote and directed Liberal Arts, and filmed it mostly at his own alma mater, Kenyon College. It’s his second attempt at triple-threat status, after Happythankyoumoreplease, and he hasn’t written or directed anything else. Nobody Walks‘ Ry Russo-Young, on the other hand (in whose favor we’ll admit to being a little biased; she gave us a terrific interview last year), has written and directed two other features, You Wont Miss Me and Orphans, and helped write Hannah Takes the Stairs, too. Plus, she had a little help from Lena Dunham, who co-wrote the screenplay. Lena! Advantage: Nobody Walks
The Winner Though Liberal Arts got great reviews at Sundance, it just doesn’t seem to break any new ground. We’ve been resisting making the super-obvious Garden State comparison (scruffy-but-lovable star of long-running “quirky” sitcom writes, directs, and stars in indie rom-com in which he’s summoned back to his childhood home via a phone call from his father, meets a girl and has adventures with her), but it may ultimately be what loses this face-off for the film. Nobody Walks, on the other hand, looks fresh and sexy. The Winner: Nobody Walks
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