Review: An Education (2009)

An Education (2009)
100 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Starring:  Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina

Grade:  A-

Welcome Carey Mulligan.  In her feature film debut, she absolutely shines in the very delicate role as Jenny, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who gets caught up in a life changing relationship with a 35-year-old man.

The film takes place in 1961 London.  Our protagonist, Jenny, lives a bland and typical life of a smart high school student.  She gets good grades and is studying to get into Oxford.  Her parents are strict and old-fashioned.  Her father, played by Alfred Molina, is humorous in the delivery of the good natured but protective father.  He wants her to study and play the cello, anything as long as it stays inside the house.

Jenny’s life gets turned upside down when she meets David (Sarsgaard).  He’s polite, intelligent, handsome, and quite a smooth talker, but as the saying goes “If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.”  David has a few secrets he refrains from telling Jenny during their romance.  Once the secrets leak out, Jenny is jostled back and forth between the dilemma she’s put in.

What’s so admirable about this film is how it isn’t about the romance and the attraction between Jenny and David.  That’s merely the bridge connecting the passion that Jenny has for the lifestyle she was embracing with him.  Did the two love each other?  I’m not convinced that was the case.  Instead, she was in love with the concerts, the foreign cities, the auctions, the museums, the clubs, and the feeling of being alive.  She’s been living in her shell for so long that she got wrapped up with the first encounter of the possibilities of the real world.

But because she’s only sixteen, her youth and careless decisions prove she still has a lot to learn.  And what about her parents?  Although a bit naive, they truly want the best for her.  They’re not able to provide the exquisite and lavishing lifestyle that David can offer.  Jenny is truly happy when she is out and about with him, so it made sense for her parents to allow her to continue her affair with him.

An Education is a smart and well-paced film that really dives into the detailed characters and allows them to grow.  There are surprises and there are also some tears along the way.  But what the film is able to do very effectively is to simply tell the story of a young and bright girl who gets caught up with the idea of a better life and is willing to throw away her life’s work for it.

This incredible story is based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, a British journalist who at 16 had an affair with a man in his late 30s named Simon.  So what was really left to gaze about from the film was the struggle between the idea of organized schools and learning by experience.  And the conflict remains.

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