An Education

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Postby Damien » Wed Dec 09, 2009 7:58 pm

Having seen Scherfig’s dreary Italian For Beginners, I should have known this would be dull, insipid filmmaking. But I didn’t expect was how reactionary it is, or how stereotyped and one-dimensional the characters are, or how clichéd and witless the script is (especially since Nick Hornby wrote the script). The acclaim for Carey Mulligan I just don’t get. She’s perfectly competent, but she doesn’t exactly light up the screen, and she has no dramatic moments. Alfred Molina is incredibly annoying, though, and Emma Thompson is ridiculous (in a ridiculous role). Peter Sarsgaard is his usual excellent self, and poor wonderful Olivia Williams tries hard but is done in by the inanity of her role. The film does nicely convey its milieu. There are moments of intelligence – and one moving scene involving Molina and tea and biscuits – but the film is completely devoid of imagination. 5/10
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Postby kaytodd » Sun Nov 29, 2009 9:46 pm

Since Carey Mulligan makes Jenny such a delightful and interesting character her decisions at the end of the film are a little disappointing. Her speeches to Emma Rhompson and Olivia Williams (the screenplay contains a lame story but it does have a few wonderful moments) sort of prepare you for a real act of rebellion on Jenny's part. But she does what almost any seventeen year old would do, at least those with the ability to get into a university like Oxford.

I remember a couple of Jenny's school chums telling her that, if things don't work out with David, she could go to secretarial school. If it could have happened, Jenny would have married David, continued to live the high life with him, traveled to various countries. She would do the best she could to raise children under these circumstances. but it would have been an interesting life with experiences most people Jenny has known have never experienced. She would have sacrificed Oxford for that.

But when she discovered she and David was not going to happen, she went with what she had been preparing for all her life. Her mental and academic gifts gave her opportunities she would be stupid to pass on. She thought David gave her something similar, but she went back to Oxford when that did not work out. I guess we can only speculate that her experience with David will help her to avoid what she sees as the "deadly" lives of other highly educated women. But since the script is TV movie caliber, we never really know how David changed her.

But I loved this film. And it was because of the performances. And I was really moved by the scene when Alfred Molina was standing outside Jenny's door with the cookies and milk. This father of a fifteen year old girl can tell you that was good work by Alfred and Carey. No way does she want Dad to come into her room and talk with her about this problem. But Dad let her know he is there with things that have made her feel good all her life, his love and milk and cookies. It really works...most of the time :)

Edited By kaytodd on 1259549522
The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. It's faith in something and enthusiasm for something that makes a life worth living. Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Postby Sabin » Sun Nov 29, 2009 6:52 pm


The message of An Education is one of two things: 1) trust the faceless uncaring institution to lead to whatever vague opportunities promised/threatened by the sour-faced marms leading you along, or 2) don't trust Jews. I'm exaggerating the latter of course but An Education does such a far more exceptional job of expanding Jenny's horizons towards worldliness and the life unlived with culture, Paris, etc., that when she feels the floor drop out beneath her and "she has nothing", she just immediately goes right back to square one and within five minutes of screen time she is in Oxford.

This is a true story and I can only rewrite movies in my head so much before I feel as though I'm getting in the way of them, but An Education builds towards Jenny not being able to get back on track to Oxford AND/OR getting on track towards it and ultimately deciding that she still no longer wants it, that I became frustrated that An Education ultimately equates her "education" and - to me, at least - acute assessment of academia borderline to corruption. Yes, this guy's a dick. But I think she's right about what she is experiencing. When she says she wants nothing of academia, I believe her. So because Carey Mulligan is such an exciting presence on-screen and because her "reformation" back towards a life of academia is so brief, I find the ending to be almost counterproductive to the rest of the goddamn film. An Education is very strong in building small character parts. Cara Seymour does so much with her part as Jenny's mother. The way she stays up all night to wash the dish is so sad in a seemingly throwaway fashion that it almost screams for a bed-side chat with her daughter later on; it does not arrive. That Emma Thompson is the casually anti-Semitic, closed-minded, snippy headmistress and does not change from scene one onward places an unlikable face on what Jenny ultimately embraces speaks ill of both their characters. Jenny feels too strong and her reformation too sleight-of-hand for such weakness, and that is what it feels like. Olivia Williams gets close to "that moment" later on after Jenny has all-but dismissed her life as redundant, and yet just as Jenny does an about-face, so does she. No change in An Education feels hard-won.

That's why it feels like such a compromise. Carey Mulligan is so goddamn good in this part that the film seems to be afraid to bend her to any will. Even her scenes with Peter Sarsgaard feel absurdly weird. I feel like he is aping a movie star performance like early Connery more than creating a character of his own. He's fucking creepy in this film and the film is too afraid to suggest that she is out of control with him. The only excuse I can come up with is that the film is approximating a 1950's romance. Yet, in a 1950's romance, we would get one last scene between them at the end where he stands revealed as a cad, but a cad that has broadened her horizons. An Education wants it both ways. It wants to sweep Jenny off her feet but is too timid to let her really fall. Sarsgaard does not create a convincing character and bounces between sexlessness and predation. And yet the fault really lies in the script, not with him. He tries to do what he can but he's bound by an over schematic narrative.

Mulligan is ridiculously enticing in this film and whatever good will I can muster comes from her, and from the game female cast of Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Cara Seymour, and especially Rosamund Pike who does miracles with this small role and in a perfect world would get an Oscar nomination.
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