Which university to choose – Oxford or life?
Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir, and written for the screen by Nick Hornby, An Education oozes quality from beginning to end. Lone Scherfig directs in a pretty straightforward manner that highlights the big plus points for the movie; namely, the dialogue and the performances.
Carey Mulligan (praised by many before me and there’s no doubting that she puts in a good turn but I’m not quite sure I’d have said “Oscar-worthy”) plays Jenny, a schoolgirl who is often fighting with her parents (Cara Seymour and Alfred Molina) over the importance of her interests alongside her academic performance. Helped along by her favourite teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams), she continues to stay on the straight and narrow. At least, until she meets the charming David (Peter Sarsgaard) and, eventually, his friends (played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike). These new people in her life begin to show her an entirely new possibility for her future and even Jenny’s parents begin to go easy on her as it looks like she could well be “taken care of” by her man without the need to slog through any further education. But every education, even in the university of life, has tests.
A good film, and at times almost a great film, An Education is also a more complex movie than it would first seem. Yes, the premise is simple and familiar but the execution of the material puts the viewer squarely in the role of judgmental peer. Is the blossoming relationship between Jenny and David a sweet, naive one or is it slightly unsettling, borderline creepy? Are Jenny’s parents won over too easily? Is Jenny herself using fancy mannerisms and affectations to hide her remaining childishness and the cover up the fact that she is still, at heart, just a little girl? Interesting points are raised throughout the duration of the film and not all of them are as black and white as they may first seem.
Alongside Mulligan’s great central role we also get a fantastic turn from Sarsgaard, who convinces as someone with charm to spare and does so with a great English accent. Everyone else is absolutely fine (with Rosamund Pike giving a wonderful, quietly effective turn) but the fantastic, and fantastically brief, turn from Emma Thompson deserves a little mention as does the absolutely priceless performance from Alfred Molina. It’s Molina’s performance that should have been getting singled out here, as far as I’m concerned, as he gives one of those turns that alternately alienates himself from the audience and then endears him to us in a possible career-best, a performance that reminds you of why you end up loving genuinely great roles watched through the magic curtain of film.
A very, very good movie that deserves a lot of the praise it has been given. But not all of it.