High school. During the experience it is boring, long, and pretty useless. You’d much rather be out living, getting into trouble, finding out what life is really about. Afterward, for most, it is a time of nostalgia, the value of which one doesn’t really grasp until years later. What is truly more important: learning through experience, falling flat and getting back up again, the oscillations of life, or an academic education? That is the question which Danish film maker Lone Scherfig asks with her new picture, “An Education.” The answer she puts forth is neither exciting nor revolutionary, and while the film’s star is a veritable shining light the overall picture is a bit dim.
Taken from the memoir by Lynn Barber “An Education” tells the story of a young British girl, Jenny (Carey Mulligan), living in a drab 1960’s London suburb who meets the exciting, older David (Peter Sarsgaard). He introduces her to smokey nightclubs and beautiful concerts; opening her eyes to a wider world outside the course her overbearing father (Alfred Molina) has set for her.
The script, written by novelist Nick Hornby, would have worked better as a book. Though it was based on a book so it seems a little redundant. As David and Jenny fall in love it becomes apparent that he is hiding something from the young, naive girl. That mystery was intended to be the back bone of the picture, but the revelation isn’t at all mind blowing enough to sustain the subterfuge.
In fact as the two get together her attraction to David is obvious, but it becomes confusing and frustrating as to why he, an older, seemingly liberated man, would fall head over heels in love with the teenage Jenny. It isn’t sex for he never pressures her to give in. And it isn’t because she is a dynamic conversationalist for they are barely seen elevating beyond basic flirtation. So what is it? David’s desire to impart his worldly knowledge on that blank slate that is his paramour seemed to be the direction Scherfig was pushing, but that rings a little thin. Finding out that David is a bored man-child who, despite his sincerity, is playing a game which has dire consequences for the young girl is far from satisfying, and left me wanting something more from his character.
The disparity between their ages plays with the audience’s modern social ethics, lending to more frustration. Why does is this thirty year old man so enamored with this seventeen year old girl, and why are her parents so willing to go along with the romance? The consequences for this January/December romance in this day and age would be prison on the man’s part, and not expulsion from private school on the girl’s. While it would be an interesting dichotomy to deal with Scherfig spends no time addressing, or even hints that she is aware of, the issue.
Obviously the titular “Education” refers to both the private school/Oxford trajectory Jenny is on, and the life lessons her romance with David gives her. Hornby’s script draws parity between the two. As Jenny’s classes are derailed by her after school behavior her “future,” by her father and the Head Mistress’ (Emma Watson) strict standards, is thrown into chaos. The attempts of her favorite teacher (Olivia Williams) to enlighten Jenny on the values of her schooling fall on deaf ears, but as her other life falls apart Jenny is woken up to the necessity of that education. Getting back on track becomes a trial in and of itself. With these problems Hornby says Jenny’s ups and downs in a scholarly education can give as many “life” lessons as it can ones in Latin. Where it is an interesting point of view, and on the page it would have been a good read, to watch it comes off as enthralling as attending some of my own heavy-lidded high school Latin classes.
While the actual film is a bit of a bore Carey Mulligan is a real joy to watch. She displays all the poise of a seasoned veteran keeping up with the legend that is Emma Thompson in their few scenes together. She upstages the usually solid Sarsgaard at every turn whose British accent and all-too-boyish demeanor were a turn off – though could have been lapses in direction as well as poor choices on his part. The vibrancy of Mulligan’s acting was enough to eclipse the ample beauty of her co-star Rosamund Pike, who takes a fun turn as Helen, the hair brained girlfriend of David’s business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper). After watching this film it was set in stone that Carey Mulligan is a rising ingenue that displays a depth of talent far surpassing most of her contemporaries, and will make “An Education” a watchable novelty as the beginning of a meteoric career.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)