December 21, 2009

Review: 'An Education' of Miseducation

"Action is character. If we never did anything, we wouldn't be anybody."

Lone Scherfig's An Education seems like a film lost in time. The film feels so old fashion but its themes are very universal and as current as ever. Carey Mulligan absolutely shines as the innocent, naïve 17-year-old bookworm, Jenny in 1961 England. She is seduced by the much older man, David played by Peter Sarsgaard, who shows her the world and the high life. The film rests on the shoulder's of Mulligan's refreshingly honest portrayal of Jenny.

The story is nothing new and the resolution of events is kind of played out, but the acting and controlled direction really do the script by by famed British novelist, Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) based on a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber, more than justice. The way Scherfig explores the conflicting ideas of feminism and independence with success, happiness, and worldliness is superb.

The education that Jenny's character goes through is genuine as characters around her are quick to warn her while others get wrapped up in her travels. The cast is excellent and really supports Mulligan's rich performance. Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike work well as David's rich, jaunty friends as Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour really anchor the film playing Jenny's overbearing parents. Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson ground Jenny as her teacher and the headmistress of her school.

I had issues with the way the conflict is resolved and the ending but it plays out in true melodramatic fashion with an air of grace and charm. David's profession and shadiness were never really explored and the conflict drawn from it was never really contentious. His ultimate arc felt somewhat unsatisfying, but Sarsgaard's performance and wit covered those flaws well.

The camera absolutely loves Carey Mulligan as she delivers a nuanced, electric performance and she shines in An Education. This film has a classic sensibilities with remarkably mature, modern themes. The first two acts were so well constructed and executed the dip in the final act felt slightly adrift. The strong performances particularly from the female cast treats the characters and material with great affection and provides some strong messages for women young and old alike. The cinematic flair displayed on screen serves a good education for viewers as a cautionary tale of love and maturity. The film shows an old-fashioned vibe of knowing education as Jenny laments, "I feel old but not very wise."

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