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An Education (2009)

February 17, 2010

7/10 Lessons Learned

Tip-top acting, but everything else feels all too familiar.

An Education is about a cultured, yet sheltered 16 year-old girl in England that develops a relationship of sorts with a man roughly twice her age who indulges her in the finer things in life. He presents her with a future filled with things you can’t learn in books, a future that doesn’t require her to conform to everyone else’s expectations for her to go to Oxford and study English, and that’s when things start to get serious.

So that’s the pickle, shack up with Humbert Humbert or go it the easy route. Granted, the girl is really into art and classical music and such, but I don’t know, I think I’d be more inclined to just go to college. College was awesome. College had beer.

Miller High Life, baby. Talk about the finer things in life.

Anyway, An Education‘s premise isn’t exactly breaking new ground. It’s a “you live, you learn” story, you’ve probably heard it before, only this time it’s got a bourgeois flair and a suspect romance. Well, that and the fact that it’s based off the autobiographical memoirs of one Lynn Barber. Thanks to this aspect, the movie as a whole ends up carrying more weight than it would have if it had been straight up fiction and the age difference between the two leads is easier to shake being that it’s not just there to be weird.

But true or not, this “Haven’t I seen this before?” vibe is the big thing that held this movie back for me. The script, though well-written by Nick Hornby (as usual), doesn’t really shed light on the subject in a way I’d never heard or read or seen it before. It’s not a bad story in the least, it’s just old hat by now and for all the things the movie does well in other areas, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it all.

But then there’s the acting, and the acting is darn good. The big mention goes to newcomer Carey Mulligan as our naive little gold digger, Jenny. The one word that I kept coming back to while watching Mulligan and thinking about why she’s getting so much buzz was none other than “lovely”. Maybe that’s just me trying to sound British or something, but there’s a very refreshing quality about her that makes you want to keep watching and keeps you invested, old chaps. She brings an air of level-headed maturity to Jenny that makes her character credible without making her childish. It’s all Carey and it’s all these qualities that not only make her more of an adult than her own father – and that’s not just because her father’s kind of an idiot – but also make her a strong protagonist.

Never seen Mulligan before, but let me tell ya’, she’s got some chops. Not really sure who’s gonna take Best Actress this year, but I’d be happy to see her walk away with it.

And I liked Peter Sarsgaard as our snappy rhino, David, but my good buddy Fred posed a good question, “Has he ever played a role where he wasn’t a huge creep?” Can’t say that I’ve made my way through the Peter Sarsgaard collection, but, yeah, he’s definitely got this go-to creep thing down at the moment. But the thing he does well is that he doesn’t make your skin crawl like a sexual predator and there’s this elegant, endearing mystique about him that draws you in just as it does Jenny. Good job on his part and I bet he’s a swell guy in real life, totally not a creep.

Alfred Molina‘s also worth mentioning as Jenny’s idiot father. Dude’s a good actor to begin with and fits the overprotective paternal role like a glove.

Managed to walk into this one blind without any real idea what it was about or what to expect aside from its Oscar nominations, and while that always makes my day, I thought I’d be a bit more bowled over by this one than I ended up being. Wouldn’t put An Education in my Top Ten of ’09, but thanks to a host of solid performances by a wonderful little cast, the finished product that would have otherwise landed itself a 5 or so was ultimately a satisfying one.

Cheerio, then!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2010 2:11 am

    I loved “An Education,” mainly because it connects like no other movie of its kind with teenagers and the issues facing them. I thought that alone deserves tremendous commendation.

    And Alfred Molina was the bomb in this movie. Biggest snub of the ’09 Oscar class for me.

  2. February 17, 2010 2:27 am

    I really wanted to see this movie (I now have to wait till it’s released on DVD/Blu-Ray). I am a personal fan of Peter Sarsgaard since I first saw him in Garden State. I’m glad that he’s getting more mainstream roles like the upcoming Thor movie.

  3. February 17, 2010 7:54 am

    For me watching Mulligan and Sarsgaard interact on-screen was so good that I just had to give it a 9 for that reason, but your right about it seeming all the same, cause it kind of is. Nice Review!

  4. February 17, 2010 11:21 am

    Perhaps you’re just not the target audience for this film. Granted, as a 32-year old man, neither am I, necessarily. Still, Jenny never once looked at Oxford like a time to get wasted so I’m not sure you’re going to identify with her too much. I actually found that AN EDUCATION did feel like an original take on a familiar theme and that was thanks to Hornby’s subtle screenplay and Mulligan’s insightful performance. I’m excited to see it was nominated for Best Picture!

    • February 17, 2010 11:25 am

      Haha, not trying to say that college ever boiled down to getting drunk for me either, but that wasn’t the reason I didn’t necessarily identify with Jenny. Just felt like her crossroads in life is one that I’d seen before and one that wasn’t saying anything all too different either. Liked the screenplay, liked Mulligan, just didn’t move me in any way, really. But hey, I agree with you, good movie, just didn’t strike a chord for some reason.

  5. February 17, 2010 3:05 pm

    Gonna agree with Aiden here, an example of a movie that connected with teens/20’s was Adventureland. Loved that one.

  6. Branden permalink
    February 17, 2010 3:54 pm

    I think that was my biggest compliment with the film. I wasn’t breaking new ground and also there was some decisions that Jenny made that pissed me off. The performances are very good. I hope that Carey walks away with the Oscar, instead of Bullock for “The Blond Side.”

    • February 17, 2010 4:00 pm

      Haha, I’m with you on that last bit. Had one other problem with the movie, too, but can’t find a way to describe it without giving it away. Maybe “poorly hid letters” is enough to not ruin anything. That bugged me.

      • Branden permalink
        February 18, 2010 2:13 pm

        Oh, yeah. He is going to hide the letters in the glove compartment. Say what now? You almost had the audience fooled that he is not the perfect man or the perfect job and he could be so careless. Really?

  7. Branden permalink
    February 17, 2010 3:54 pm

    I meant to say complaint. Damn it!

  8. February 18, 2010 12:46 am

    God the DVD is coming out March 30!!! Such a long wait…

  9. mill1924 permalink
    February 22, 2010 11:46 pm

    A fantastic surprise of a movie! But I agree with you, not sure if it would land in my top 10 of the year either. Mulligan’s performance needs to beat Sandra.

    • February 23, 2010 10:53 am

      Hell yes it does. Glad you liked it. Thanks for visiting, man. Appreciate the comment.

  10. Badabing permalink
    May 24, 2010 10:32 pm

    the film was crap. someone who passes with A grades and pretends to appreciate art then asking if there a reason to knowledge seems ridiculous, it would have been a serious question if her preference wasn’t simply hedonism and bourgeoisie life. Marx would have a real go at this film if he was alive, someone of her character would do the world allot of damage getting a degree and coming into power. Also the guys allure was his wealth it goes to show that with money and wealth paedophiles get away. The offered nothing , accept maybe the portrayal of youth decadence as the essence of knowledge and pursuit of it is lost.

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