falderal : a moving images blog
An Education ; 2009  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Posted by Maddy

Director: Lone Scherfig
Actors: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams.
Country: United Kingdom

It is becoming more and more rare to not only find a film that has a smart, intelligent female character as the lead, but one who is an active agent in the narrative. An Education, adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir of the same name, is a film that does just that. This time capsule to 1960s suburban London is coming of age tale is one that tells a familiar story, but does so as un-Hollywood as it can.

Sixteen year old Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan) is an overachieving cellist who is pressured by her parents into spending all her time working towards getting into the university of their dreams, Oxford. Jenny, in her suburban existence, desires culture – specifically that of the French variety. Whether it’s listening to Juliette Greco records instead of studying for Latin, or dropping the French phrase whenever she can, Jenny is someone who is always demonstrating her knowledge, but craves finding it elsewhere. Luckily for her she finds it in the much older David (Peter Sarsgaard), who quickly sweeps her off her feet and charms her hard nosed, albeit well meaning, parents. It ends up, not surprisingly, that the life of David and his friends are not as perfect as they appear to be and Jenny must end up making some morally culpable decisions. It’s difficult not to when the trio, including David, his friends the charming Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s well meaning though psychologically unemployed girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike), do everything they can to make Jenny feel smart and special. She gets caught up in the games that adults play, but never lets herself get completely lost. Things go from morally grey to worse by the end of the film, leaving Jenny far from the position she imagined herself in.

The most refreshing part of the film is the agency that Jenny takes. She willing gets involved with a group of people who are far from “the right” people her parents wish her to be with. She knowingly participates in deceiving her parents, in participating in criminal activities, in jeopardizing her chances at Oxford. Every action she takes is done consciously and she is as responsible to what happens to her as is every other character. The humanity of the film, which stems from it staying loyal to the memoir and not delving into familiar Hollywood tropes, makes certain that no character is entirely guilty or entirely innocent. With this un-Hollywood quality of the film Jenny is not a clueless heroine being swept away by a sinister older man, but an intelligent, mature young woman who makes a mistake but saves herself in the end. Mulligan shines here, able to be both self assured and vulnerable, able to play off the series of contradictions that make her character so authentic.

Winner for Best Cinematography and the Audience Choice Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival Lone Scherfig’s An Education is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted but primarily one of the most authentic portrayals of a young woman on screen.

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