An Education

Somehow in the last 3 months I’ve managed to see 5 of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture and IMO, this movie was really something special

Plot Summary: The film takes place in 1960’s London (or specifically the suburb of Twickenham).  Sixteen year old Jenny lives with her parents. On her father’s wishes, everything that Jenny does is in the sole pursuit of being accepted into Oxford, as he wants a better life for her than he had.  Jenny Moller is bright, pretty, hard working but also naturally gifted.  Her life changes after she meets David Goldman, a man over twice her age; who goes out of his way to show Jenny and her family that his interest in her is not improper. He solely wants to expose her to cultural activities, which she enjoys. Jenny quickly gets accustomed to the life to which David and his constant companions, Danny and Helen, have shown her, and their relationship becomes a romantic one.  Jenny, however, slowly learns more about David, and by association Danny and Helen, and how specifically they make their money. Jenny has to decide if what she learns about them and leading such a life is worth forgoing her plans of higher education at Oxford.

My take on it:

And the award for Best Picture goes to (drum roll please!) . . . . . ‘An Education.’

Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir ‘An Education*,’ the twenty four year old Carey Mulligan absolutely jumps off the page as sixteen year old Jenny Mellor, who despite her bright future, can’t help wondering if all her efforts aren’t for nothing in the end.  Daughters beware, this film may well prove that your parents knew what they were talking about when they said “we just want what’s best for you.”  While Jenny excels in just about all her subjects sans latin, she is not remiss to be smoking a cigarette or waxing poetic about her soon to be “first time,” while lounging with her friends.

Then along comes David Goldman, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard who despite his horrible British accent damn near stole the show as a too good to be true “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”  The well dressed, well spoken, music and fine arts loving womanizer made even me a little jealous as he deceptively carries Jenny away on a most magical and unbelievable tangent of romance and excitement.  For all my agony over Sarsgaard’s watered down accent, I couldn’t help thinking how much I’d like to be such a debonaire gentleman, who cleverly woos everyone, including Jenny’s parents, into a believing he truly is Mr. Wonderful.  Ever the pessimist however, I had to do everything in my control to keep from trying to figure out how the joy-ride was gonna end.  Their performance was just that engaging.

While sadly not nominated for their supporting performances, both Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams excellently portray the role of the rare exception in 1960s British middle-class society, that of the college educated woman.  Thompson, who plays the old fashioned, faux woman’s lib headmistress character has her boat rocked as her most brilliant pupil Jenny questions the value of her laborious education, where the prospect of being grown up and educated also means to be bored and stuck in life.  The scenes where Thompson is confronted by Mulligan’s character paint a clear picture of the British mindset and of gender roles which truly served to authenticate the mise-en-scène of the characters and the times they were living in.

From the multitude of left handed compliments and dry British zingers by way of Jenny and her father (Alfred Molina) you might think to label this film a comedy.  From the coming-of-age in the 60s plot, and spot on histrionics and authenticity of the London backdrop, you might also label this a period piece.  Add in a mind bending story of romance and betrayal and it’d be tough to label this film anything other than absolutely brilliant.  Not a moment wasted in the entire 95 minutes.  A definite must see.

* Barber’s autobiography, An Education (a memoir), was published by Penguin UK in June 2009. Its genesis was in a short piece on a similar theme that Barber wrote for British literary magazine Granta. Nick Hornby adapted this short article into the film.
** Refer to this link for a full plot summary of the film ‘An Education
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