Jenny (Carey Mulligan) lives in suburban Twickenham in 1961 London, with her square parents Jack (Alfred Molina and Marjorie (Cara Seymour), approaching her 17th birthday and an all important exam which should get her into Oxford. But when she meets the older, sophisticated and cashed up David (Peter Sarsgaard), her attention is taken by the sophisticated lifestyle he shows her, and even her father relaxes his insistence that she get a University education. She is, however, getting an education in the ways of the world and when David has one too many surprises for her, Jenny's life turns upside down and inside out.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A superb choice to close the 2009 Sydney Film Festival An Education gets everything right, even though Danish director Lone Scherfig is modest in her claims for the film, saying the rest of the festival program is a hard act to follow. Yet follow she did and knocked the audience for six with its absolute honesty, its crazy charm and its simple (but true and effective) story. Coming of age may be the label, but it doesn't do justice to this profoundly satisfying film that observes human nature with a wry smile.
Carey Mulligan's game teenager is a wonderful creation, certain to launch Mulligan into the cinematic stratosphere. She is vulnerable yet independent minded, strong yet playful and above all, an accomplished actress who can make us feel her emotions with ease. Her Jenny goes through such a bewildering, fascinating, uplifting yet hope-dashing journey that we have to be 100% with her all the way.
Peter Sarsgaard is equally excellent as the suave and all too smooth operator who uses a well practiced charm like some people use loose change; he has plenty of it and scatters it towards everyone he meets. Both characters engage from the start in Scherfig's beautifully realised film, which cleverly conjures up 1961 London (I remember it well). This was just a few short years before London became the cultural centre of the Western world, and Carnaby Street was just a lane in central London. It was really the 50s, still, complete with terrible food, lousy weather and a blanket of boredom over it all - at least for the likes of Jenny and her huddled parents.
Alfred Molina rides hid dialogue like a tragic knight as Jenny's underwhelming dad, who is as easily seduced by David as is Jenny. Superb support from both Dominic Cooper as David's partner Danny, in questionable business, and a scene stealing turn by Rosamund Pike as Danny's bimbo. (She is convinced that Latin will become obsolete - not even Latins speak it much anymore.)
The sheer joy of an intelligent, grown up film in this genre is enhanced by the cultural specifics of the story, the attention to detail in even the smallest roles (Emma Thompson, with just two scenes, makes an impact) and the story having something relevant to say about women's roles in UK (and other) societies only 30-odd years ago. The tone of the film remains with us, like a well loved melody, every time we pick up a piece of it in our mind.
Review by Louise Keller:
Here's an irresistible tale of seduction in which innocence and intellect are the prize stakes. Nick Hornby's disarmingly clever script about the corruption of ideals and first love, bursts into life under Lone Scherfig's tantalising direction, capturing every nuance of the delicious journey in which we are about to partake. It's a stylish, spellbinding and blatantly funny film that reminds us of how blinkered love is and how impressionable we are when temptation wafts by sweetly, like an alluring French perfume.
The 60s pop tune Love on the Rebound perfectly sets the mood and the time. The place is Twickenham, suburban London and life is hard and boring. Carey Mulligan's Jenny dreams of Paris, wearing black and smoking cigarettes; her hard-up parents are counting on her studying at Oxford. Then, in the rain along comes Peter Sarsgaard's charming stranger David, who offers her a lift in his maroon Bristol after cello practice, dazzling her with his worldliness as he offers an entrée into a world of which she has only dreamed. Forget that gawky Jewish boy who plays the violin. No need to play Juliette Grecco on the gramophone; instead it's supper at a jazz club called Juliette, art galleries, a weekend at Oxford, a birthday treat in Paris and a lifestyle of sophistication and fun. Deception becomes the norm and everyone becomes inadvertently complicit.
Reminscent of Audrey Hepburn, Carey Mulligan bewitches us immediately as Jenny, the naïve, bright schoolgirl who punctuates her conversation for no reason with French phrases. Like her, we feel the rush of her new life. Sarsgaard hits the spot as the creamy smooth Lothario with the silver tongue that lets him not only get the girl, but allows him to manipulate her class-conscious parents (Alfred Molina is hilarious as Jenny's strict dad). Rosamund Pike is spanking good as the ditzy blonde ("I always think I'm going to a funeral when listening to classical music") and Olivia Williams' bookish teacher works well as Jenny's conscience. You can't get better than Emma Thompson as the disapproving headmistress and Dominic Cooper is deceptively strong as David's best friend.
It all starts with the brilliance of Hornsby's script, and combined with Scherfig's talents as a director and a cast that sings, this is an unbeatable way to get educated: laugh, love and live.
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AN EDUCATION (M)
CAST: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Sally Hawkins
PRODUCER: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
DIRECTOR: Lone Scherfig
SCRIPT: Nick Hornby (memoir by Lynn Barber)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John de Borman
EDITOR: Barney Pilling
MUSIC: Paul Englishby
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew McAlpine
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 22, 2009