"An Education": Movie Review (2009)

11/25/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"An Education"

Directed by Lone Scherfid, written by Nick Hornby, 95 minutes, rated PG-13.

By our guest blogger, Kristen Lopez

The true sign of Oscar season is when the smaller, independent films that are slowly gaining acclaim expand into the major theaters for mass consumption. “An Education” is indeed entering major cities and it's not a film to be missed. A true Academy Awards contender with heartfelt performances all around, this is a must-see and possibly one of the best films of the year.

The story follows 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a girl whose life has been planned out for her by her overeager father Jack (Alfred Molina). Meant to live a boring life attending Oxford, one rainy day she meets the dashing David (Peter Sarsgaard), who offers her a ride home. To Jenny's family, David seems willing to take the girl under his wing and give her a taste of the finer things in life. But as Jenny and David become closer, the young girl is forced to grow up quickly and ultimately discover deceit and heartbreak.

“An Education” may have a premise ripped from a song by The Police, but the film is a sweet and heartfelt coming-of-age story about sexual awakening, love, life and all the other things these films teach us. The relationship between David and Jenny is not tawdry or depraved--David spells out his intentions by saying he's happy to meet a girl of Jenny's age who actually is interested in culture and art. Jenny isn't a normal girl obsessed with boys and makeup; instead, she reads books, speaks French when she doesn't need to, and dreams of traveling all over the world.

To David, she is the exotic one because she wants to do things and learn, which complements David, who has the ability to give her anything she wants. Yes, their relationship turns sexual at some point, but that's not David's sole aim and purpose as he truly comes to care for Jenny. The film also makes their relationship respectable due to the time period, which takes place in the early 1960s, when young women were still getting married at an early age to older men. Aside from that, the movie is about a young woman growing up and learning about the harsh realities of adulthood. She starts to question her need for an education, what truly constitutes said education, and a woman's place in the great scheme of things. Jenny has several revealing conversations with her Headmistress, played hilariously by Emma Thompson, about the need for schooling and if it leads to more or less life experience. In the end, the movie is about living life and what a full life means, but along the way, harsh lessons are learned.

A movie like this, with sharp and insightful writing by “High Fidelity” scribe Nick Hornby, lives and dies by its cast. The cast in “An Education” is nothing short of spectacular. I would look for this to win a Golden Globe for Best Ensemble as the cast really works as a group. Carey Mulligan has been endlessly compared to Audrey Hepburn and it's both fair and unfair. Yes, Mulligan does look like the actress when she's all dolled up, and she does have a worldly innocence about her, but the actress makes the role of Jenny all her own. Jenny is both naive and smart, clever, witty and completely out of her element. When she's sitting in a group of David's friends, she's at sea, and Mulligan conveys the emotions of being out of place, yet trying to act like she belongs. This young actress has a career ahead of her and she just dazzles in both comedic and dramatic scenes in this film.

Peter Sarsgaard is slowly creeping up the ladder in his career and is phenomenal as the handsome David. He's never creepy or pervy--he's just a man who wants what he wants, and who doesn't think about the consequences. His love for Jenny is pure and Sarsgaard is wonderful when he's sitting with Jenny's family, attempting to charm them so they'll let their daughter leave with him. Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are perfect as Jenny's equally naive parents who want what's best for their child, whether that's school or the chance for a good marriage. Molina should get an Oscar nod for this role because his character is so conflicted. Does he want his daughter to be smart and educated, or married and cared for? Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson are solid in small roles as Jenny's school teachers. Rosamund Pike steals her scenes as the dippy friend Helen, showing Jenny what she could end up as one day if she stays with David. Dominic Cooper dominates the film in his role as Jack's friend, Danny, the disjointed voice of reason. Cooper will hopefully get recognized for something as his character has been glossed over.

“An Education” is spectacular. The performances are amazing, the story is fresh and insightful and everything comes together to craft a film that is at times highly witty yet poignantly sad. To say anymore about the film would do a disservice to fans as it's a movie they should experience and discuss on their own terms.

Grade: A-

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