Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Education

Ahh what a delightful film. An Education is long and far the best romance of this year. There isn’t a scene void of curious charm. Every moment is genuine and heartfelt. Welcome to the bliss of independent movie heaven.

Proper British schoolgirl Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is young, innocent, daring and a tad precocious. Weighted down by her strict, well-to-do father (Alfred Molina) who wants nothing more than Oxford for his daughter, Jenny jumps at the chance to stir up a little mischief. Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard) and older, mature gentleman who falls head over heals for Jenny after a chance encounter.

The two begin a wondrous, consenting relationship, one of the best in recent cinematic history. David, while young, is mysteriously loaded with cash. He gives Jenny the world, full of expensive meals, far away trips, lavish gifts, etc. In essence, he’s educating her, hence the title.
The film playfully carries on for a while without introducing any real conflict. But be advised, An Education is packing one hell of a wallop, and that’s when the film really takes off.

It isn’t often that I simply smile for no specific reason while watching a film. When it does happen, I can usually credit an actor. Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky had me grinning like a fool last year. Give the honor to Mulligan this time around. In her early scenes, Mulligan carries herself with a bit of clandestine desire. We know she’s more mature than her friends, and we want nothing more than for her to lash out, bustle up a spot of trouble. So when she does, Mulligan takes her character to remarkable heights.

There are two scenes in particular that should make Mulligan a lock for a Best Actress nomination. Watch one of her encounters with the ever-brilliant Emma Thompson (as the school’s head mistress). In one startling monologue, Mulligan exclaims what it means to be a young, independent woman in ‘60s Britain. She stands up for herself, sure, but it also feels like she’s standing up for most of the other female characters in the film. It’s truly remarkable.

The next standout scene is even more impressive, and Mulligan doesn't have to utter a single word. After a spat with her dad, Mulligan locks herself in her room, as Molina talks to her from behind the closed door. Now pay attention to these actors. What Molina does here is nothing short of amazing. For the first time in the film, he gives his character a heart. He pleads with his daughter not condescendingly, but as an adult. It’s the single best scene of Molina’s impressive career, but made all the more endearing based on Mulligan’s emotional, silent reaction.

An Education is the kind of film that slowly nestles itself in you, delicately transfixing your feelings into sheer joy. Mulligan, an actress I’ve never heard of, has a grand career ahead of her. Her quiet, awesome power rocks you to the core. You’ll care about Jenny every step of the way. Forget the silly teenage vampires; this is the season’s real romance. A


  1. Haven't see this one yet, but it's next on my list! I absolutely love your description of it.


    P.S. Good call on Up in the Air and Invictus. I'm on Fantastic Mr. Fox right now. :)

  2. Nothing really to add, except to recommend a Carey Mulligan performance you may not have seen. Check out her episode of Doctor Who, from a couple years before this. Whether or not the series is your kind of thing or not, she's really something (in a complexly written episode).

    1. You're right, I've never seen that. Gonna have to check it out ASAP.

      By the way, what exactly is Doctor Who? I hear about it all the time, but is the series as a whole pretty good?

    2. Well, we know your not British. :)

      It's sci-fi that never forgets to be fun. Let's see how short a synopsis I can do...

      Original series - 1960s-1980s, BBC, on PBS in the US. Adventures of a time traveler across the universe. Stories told in short arcs of ~4 episodes at 1/2 hour format.

      Revived series - mid 2000s-current, BBC, on ? in the US. Same concept, more Earth-tied though, so a little less wonky in that regard (but I'm still catching up on these, so that may change in more current episodes). Stories are generally contained to 1 hour episodes, but some multi-part exist.

      The newer series seems a little sillier, a little less grand. I can't be objective though, as I'm 30 years older now!

      If we think of Star Trek as the national sci-fi series in the US, then it's equivalent (as far as name recognition, not concept) in the UK is Doctor Who.

      To watch the one episode we're talking about, you don't need to know much of any of that, as The Doctor isn't even in all that much of the episode. Anyway, it's not high art, but it's fun, and the one with Carey Mulligan (series 3, epidoe 10 - "Blink") is a standout.

    3. Ok cool, I've seen some of the original series, but I wasn't sure if it was the same at all. Sounds pretty groovy. Definitely need to check out her episode.