Review: An Education
PLOT: Sixteen year-old schoolgirl, Jenny (Carey Mulligan), is working hard during her final year of high school to gain admission to Oxford University, in order to please her overbearing father (Alfred Molina). One day, she's approached by a debonair, sophisticated, thirty-ish man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), and soon embarks on a torrid affair with the worldly suitor, who's so charming that he even manages to gain the approval of her initially suspicious father. Over the course of a few months, David, with his friends Danny (Dominic Cooper), and Helen (Rosamund Pike), exposes Jenny to a world of art and fun, although she soon begins to realize that David may not be all he seems.
REVIEW: AN EDUCATION is one of the films I somehow missed at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. I tried to work it into my schedule, as I`ve heard nothing but good things about it since it played at Sundance last year, but there was simply too much to see in such little time, and I was unable to catch it. If I had, this definitely would have been one of the highlights of the fest, as AN EDUCATION really is a delightful, charming film- which is a bit of a surprise, as the central relationship in the film could easily be interpreted as statutory rape.
To be fair, Jenny, despite her age, is an old soul who doesn`t fit in with her peers, and seemingly has a lot more in common with the older David, than people her own age- which is underlined in a scene where Jenny celebrates her seventeenth birthday with David, and a younger, more age-appropriate suitor. I don`t want it to seem like I`m condoning their relationship- I`m not (an neither are the filmmakers, which is evident later in the film), but Sarsgaard is so smooth as David (sporting an impeccable English accent), that I totally bought the fact that her parents might approve of the obviously inappropriate relationship.
Sarsgaard really has his best role in years here, and I`d be willing to bet that this will be the role that finally gains him leading man status in Hollywood, where he`s already made a name for himself as a dependable character actor (he was amazing, and Oscar-nominated in SHATTERED GLASS).
However, the real breakout star of the film has to be Carey Mulligan, who`s being touted as the next big thing- which she may well be. She`s absolutely fantastic as Jenny, projecting both a beyond-her-years maturity, and a certain vulnerability, which makes her extremely likable. She also has surprisingly strong chemistry with the older Sarsgaard, and it will be interesting to see how she fares alongside Shia Laboeuf in WALL STREET 2. Jenny really is an indelible character, beautifully written by Nick Hornsby, author of HIGH FIDELITY, and ABOUT A BOY, who adapts a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber- who I take it, was the real Jenny.
Mulligan`s also lucky to have such a sensitive, yet dynamic director like Lone Scherfig behind the lens. Scherfig`s a Danish director who was once in Lars von Trier`s Dogme movement, but has since adopted a more mainstream approach- previously directing ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS, and the under-seen WILBUR WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF. Scherfig seems particularly inspired by the early sixties/pre-swinging London setting of the film, as it really brings to mind the work of several English directors of the era, like Richard Lester, around the time he did A HARD DAY`S NIGHT, and HELP!.
In addition to Mulligan, and Sarsgaard, I should also mention the superb supporting cast, led by Alfred Molina, who once again proves to be one of the great character actors of our time, with his role as Jenny`s father. In a less likable actor`s hands, he would have come off as a total, insufferable ass, but Molina manages to make you like the character, despite his faults. I also thought Olivia Williams, who I haven`t seen in much since RUSHMORE, as Jenny`s disapproving teacher (who seems to be the only person in the film to see the relationship between David and jenny for what it really is), was fantastic. Rounding out the cast is Dominic Cooper, and Rosamund Pike, as David`s hip, but vacuous friends. Pike is particularly good here, and comes off a lot better than she did in the recent Bruce Willis action-er, SURROGATES.
All in all, AN EDUCATION was a great, thoroughly enjoyable film, and one which I`m sure will get some Oscar attention towards the end of the year. If you want to see a charming, British comedy (with perhaps a bit more edge than your typical Brit-com like ABOUT A BOY or RUN, FAT BOY, RUN) I suggest you give this a watch. You won`t regret it.