Movie Review – An Education

A fun production with a great soundtrack and scrumptious English scenery but the decisions are ultimately too dim to believe

Lone Scherfig won the Silver Bear at the Berlin FF for her “Italian for Beginners” but has had a mixed record since then.  Despite mixed results at the box office her films mean what they say.  Scherfig does not waste time on trivialities; her stories have gravity and “An Education,” winner of the Audience Award at Sundance this year, is no exception. 

Break-through actress Carey Mulligan (Kitty Bennet in “Pride & Prejudice” in 2005) does most of the heavy lifting in this cautionary coming-of-age tale. Jenny is a high school girl who falls for an older man who is not at all whom he seems.  Perhaps due to their mutual British roots, the film becomes a “Happy-Go-Lucky” tale except with a down-side.  After all, nobody can be as cheerful all the time as Sally Hawkins’ Poppy with a hard lesson here and there.

Jenny learns her lesson as a result of her liaison with David, played to the hilt by Peter Sarsgaard.  Sarsgaard has garnered multiple awards for his past performances in “Kinsey” and most notably “Shattered Glass” where he plays the upstanding good guy in exposing cheater Stephen Glass in the course of their tenure at the New Republic magazine.  Whether this bit of casting magic was intentional or not will remain to be seen but it will definitely enter into the minds of a few in the audience.  The sober, clear thinking prince in “Shattered Glass” becomes the self-deluding and feckless lover in “An Education.”

Sarsgaard does a great job in this film in playing both the very suave man-about-town and the marginally competent psycho who barely knows his own identity.  He has a much harder part to play than Carey Mulligan who in being the school girl Jenny changes little throughout the film.  Mulligan is absolutely charming but she is much like Amy Adams in that, with all due respect, their characters’ trajectories are flat.  Sarsgaard has to crash like the exposed wunderkind brought to earth in one shattering blow.  Of course he gets what he deserves and hence the happy ending for the film.  Don’t worry; the PG rating for this film is for real.  Although there are some very disjointed characters, there are no Hannibal Lecters lurking about.

Cara Seymour (“Adaptation”) and the legendary Alfred Molina play Jenny’s parents in two solid supporting roles.  After all, no teenager lives her life completely without the support of her parents.  Molina has received more nominations than awards for his work but his sparkling supporting roles in “Frida,” Magnolia,” and “Boogie Nights” have made him one of hottest box office draws in the business.  His bug eyed incredulity is matched only by his agitated naïveté in yet another role of the very big deer caught in the headlights.

Carey Mulligan sparkles as the sheltered seventeen year old who learns a big lesson.  This is a big part for her and she comes through with the performance required.  This is in part due to good directing by Lone Scherfig but the good directing seems inconsistent throughout the film and insufficient to make up for a thin screenplay.  In spite of Mulligan’s delicious cuteness her character is too dim to believe, as are the characters of her mother and father.  Alfred Molina is a thoroughbred in his element as the clueless father as he was clueless in “Chocolat” and “Frida,” but the overall film leaves one wanting more of him and less of everybody (and everything) else.  Casting Peter Sarsgaard as the near-psycho socializer is a work of genius.  Even though he may be best known as the honest upstanding editor who exposes morally bankrupt Stephen Glass in “Shattered Glass” it might be that the indirect reference to Glass, with a hole where his conscience should be, works to make Sarsgaard’s part in this film the creepy masterpiece that it is.

Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Written by: Lynn Barber (memoir) and Nick Hornby (screenplay)

Starring: Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard

Release: November 9, 2009
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking
Runtime: 95 minutes
Country: UK 
Language: English
Color: Color