Details: (M), 100 mins, In Cinemas 22 October 2009, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a bright young girl on the cusp of her 17th birthday who finds herself in a whirlwind romance with a much older David (Peter Sarsgaard). Prior to meeting David, Jenny was trying to excel in her life by going to a prep school to get into Oxford. Once she sees the lifestyle David can provide, one she never imagined might so easily be hers, she is hooked and thoughts of Oxford go out the window. Then, when things are looking pretty good for Jenny with the dashing (yet a little too smooth) David, the truth hits her like a ton of bricks. Jenny goes from being a bright eyed school girl to a sophisticated young lady and then all the way back to questioning if she really knows who she is at all.
When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
A cautionary tale about the value of life experience, Lone Scherfig’s An Education is a clever, astutely observed adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir about her eye-opening introduction to love.
In 1960s London – before the Sixties really started to swing – “clever and pretty” Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is desperate to break out of stultifying Twickenham to get out there and suck at the marrow of life. Her strict parents are expecting her to gain entry to Oxford and this seems a foregone conclusion for the well-regarded student; with little entertainment outside of books and cello recitals, she lives vicariously through existential poetry and Juliette Greco records.
Mulligan’s Jenny is the epitome of the ’16-going-on-17-year-old’ first immortalised by Rodgers & Hammerstein, and her natural spark ensures that there are plenty of “eager young lads and roues and cads” in the offing.
When a handsome stranger in a maroon Bristol comes to her aid on a rainy afternoon following band practice, Jenny is rightly guarded at first but his propriety and charm win her trust, and a subsequent meeting leads to a dinner invitation and a West End show.
David (Peter Sarsgaard) is twice Jenny’s age but the matter of her parents’ approval is overcome with copious flattery and talk of famous friendships with luminaries like C.S. Lewis (or rather, “Clive”). Over the course of several dizzying months, Jenny experiences the theatre, jazz clubs, auctions and fine dining establishments, and discovers the transformative effects of mascara and a tidy up-do. The ultimate triumph comes when Jenny’s parents gleefully consent to David’s chaperoning her on an overnight visit to Oxford and subsequently, a trip to Paris for her 17th birthday where she – unbeknownst to them of course – plans to bed her older beau.
With deft humour and a jaunty soundtrack, Scherfig (from a Nick Hornby script) keeps the tone light and avoids miring the inevitabilities of the plot in melodrama.
Performances are excellent across the board: Sarsgaard avoids creepy overtones in his pursuit of the pretty schoolgirl; Matthew Beard is a scene-stealer as Jenny’s wannabe age-appropriate suitor; and Alfred Molina is excellent as the patriarch who lets his middle class aspirations hijack his parental responsibilities. But none of them hold a candle to Carey Mulligan as Jenny – she expertly handles the contradictions of adolescence and this performance should garner Oscar attention come February 2010.
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