Monday, July 16, 2012

An Education

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/5/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, An Education tells the story of a 16-year old schoolgirl living in a quaint yet disciplined suburban home. The girl's life changes when she meets an older man who would take her away from her restrictive life of school and ambition for a world that is broader only to later be hit with a dose of reality. Directed by Lone Scherfig and screenplay by Nick Hornby, the film is a tale of a girl coming of age in the 1960s as she is introduced to a new world. Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson. An Education is a brilliant coming-of-age drama from Lone Scherfig & co.

It's 1961 in Twickenham, England as a 16-year old schoolgirl named Jenny Miller (Carey Mulligan) is working hard to go to Oxford. She has great grades and is one of the top students of her class. Though she lives a quiet life with her parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Seymour) as Jack hopes she goes to Oxford to have a great education. Jenny isn't so sure if studying and going to Oxford is the way to go. Even as she's pursued by another young student named Graham (Matthew Beard) who Marjorie likes though Jack felt isn't good enough for Jenny. Then on rainy day following a rehearsal for a youth orchestra, Jenny encounters an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard) who takes Jenny home to school along with her cello.

Jenny befriends the older yet cultured David who shares a love of French music and films along with books and other fine things. David introduces himself to Jenny's parents whom he charms them while he introduces Jenny to his friends Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike). Jenny starts to go into clubs and orchestras as she is having fun. Once she learns what David and Danny does to maintain their posh lifestyle, she is reluctant to leave but stays so she can have fun. Though her grades start to drop much to the concern of her teacher Mrs. Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and headmistress Ms. Walters (Emma Thompson). Jenny continues to live a world of fun with David as he takes to her Paris once she turns 17.

Even Jenny's parents seem to enjoy David's company as Jenny's own academic future becomes troubles as Stubbs and Walters know she has much more to offer. Even Danny becomes worried as David makes a move to the surprise of Jenny and her parents. All of this is changed when David's past starts to catch up with him leaving Jenny pondering about all she had been through.

The film is a coming of age tale based on real life events in the life of its author Lynn Barber. With Nick Hornby, a renowned author in his own right with such works as Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, taking on the adaptation. It plays up as a coming of age story from the mind of a young girl who is bound for Oxford until she encounters this mysterious yet worldly man. The relationship between Jenny and David seems taboo since she was 16 and he in his early 30s. David's sense of charm and wit manages to win her over as well as her parents despite Jack's supposed anti-Semitic feelings. Even though Hornsby creates a film that centers around this young girl. He creates supporting characters that are just as interesting and all providing some sort of guidance to Jenny whether it's right or wrong.

In David, he's a man interested in Jenny because she's intelligent and isn't like other girls while wanting to show her a world that dreams about going to. Paris is among them while David's friends like to play along though Danny seems to the more cautious while Helen is a bit vapid but fun to be around. The parents are portrayed in a multi-dimensional way as Marjorie is a woman who wants Jenny to do well but also have fun though it's Jack that seems to have more to say. He's a man determined for Jenny to have a great education but after meeting David, he realizes that there might be another alternative for Jenny. Only later to realize she might sacrifice something that she will regret and it will be his fault. Other characters like Mrs. Stubbs and Ms. Walters are authority figures who are more sympathetic though Walters is a bit more hard-nosed as she reveals possible consequences. Mrs. Stubbs meanwhile, is also cautious for Jenny while revealing that life without an education won't really mean anything.

All of these characters Jenny interacts with are crucial to her development in life. She starts out as a young girl wanting a life out of school and studying and end up a young woman trying to figure out what she had just went through. Along the way, she is enamored with all of the excess of a rich lifestyle and begins to question about educated life and at times, becomes ignorant on certain things. It's a character that is truly memorable and certainly wonderfully written in the mind of Nick Hornby.

Director Lone Scherfig does an amazing job in recreating 1960s England in its pre-swinging days where things are a bit reserved, calm, and still coming out of the era of World War II with the Cold War still looming around them. A departure from Scherfig's more looser filmmaking style that came from the world of Dogme 95. There is something enchanting of the way Scherfig shoots and composes a scene while presenting the dramatic moments quite intimately while leaving more space for happier, humorous sequences. Scenes like an entire sequence of Jenny and David in Paris is very dream-like as if it gives the audience a feeling they're seeing Paris for the first time while it has a French New Wave feel. Though Scherfig does still employ a hand-held style in more intense sequences where David and Danny do what they do. It's told through an engaging yet intimate style of filmmaking as it is clearly the best work that Scherfig has done so far in her filmmaking career.

Cinematographer John de Borman does a splendid job in capturing the drab yet low-color look of 1960s English suburbia for the film's early sequences with more lighter colors in scenes near London. The work of de Borman works in conveying the mood of the film as it progresses where by the 2nd act, it has a colorful feel only to dim down once the third act begins as the camera work is phenomenal. Editor Barney Pilling does an excellent job with the film's editing with the use of smooth transitions and rhythmic cuts while giving the film a nice, leisurely pace that works overall in its 95-minute feel.

Production designer Andrew McAlpine along with set decorator Anna Lynch-Robinson and art director Ben Smith do a fabulous job in recreating the look of 1960s England. From the look of the cars and shops to the look of the objects at the home of the Millers. Even the recreation of paintings and objects that David has obtained for his rich lifestyle. The costume design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux is truly wonderful in the more conservative, schoolgirl look for Jenny early on to fancy, colorful dresses and hairdos while the clothes that Helen wears are gorgeous to look at. In recreating the look of 1960s dresses and suits, the costume design is definitely a huge technical highlight of the film. Sound editor Glenn Freemantle does an excellent job in the sounds of school halls and ballrooms that Jenny encounters with along with the city of London itself as Freemantle captures the atmosphere of those locations.

The music by Paul Englishby is wonderful in its orchestral feel with flourishing arrangements of strings to convey Jenny's new sense of freedom along with more low-key, dramatic pieces for the heavy drama. The soundtrack features a slew of early, pre-Beatles 1960s pop and classical pieces while the closing song is a track sung by Duffy that she co-wrote with Suede's Bernard Butler.

The casting by Lucy Bevan is wonderful with an amazing ensemble that is truly fun to watch. Small roles such as Matthew Beard as Jenny's friend Graham along with Amanda Fairbank-Hynes and Ellie Kendrick as a couple of Jenny's schoolmates are memorable along with a one-scene performance from Sally Hawkins as a mysterious woman. Rosamund Pike is funny as the vapid, superficial Helen who loves living the high life while wanting to look good throughout. Dominic Cooper is very good as Danny, David's partner-in-crime who is reserved and quiet while being the most cautious as he was wondering when is going to go too far for Jenny. Olivia Williams is superb as Mrs. Stubbs, Jenny's English teacher who sees Jenny going down a troubling path while warning her about what will happen as Williams is wonderfully understated in a very sympathetic authority figure.

In a small but memorable role, Emma Thompson is great as Jenny's headmistress. A stern though sympathetic figure who warns Jenny about the implications of leading a life without an education while reluctantly admitting to the flaws of an educated lifestyle. Cara Seymour is very good as Jenny's mother Marjorie, a woman who is the more sympathetic parent while still a no-nonsense woman who just wants Jenny to succeed but also live a nice life. Alfred Molina is brilliant as Jack, Jenny's strict but caring father who hopes for Jenny to succeed only to be charmed by David into letting Jenny have a carefree life only to realize the consequences and his own faults. Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as David, a charming man who is also mysterious as Sarsgaard plays with him a bit of creepiness but also wit while sporting a fine British accent since he's the only American actor in the film.

Finally, there's Carey Mulligan in a real breakthrough performance as Jenny. Mulligan's performance is definitely the heart and soul of the film as she displays wit, charm, humor, naivete, and vulnerability all in this incredible journey of a young woman coming of age. Early on, she looks like a young 16-year old girl and then ends up a 17-year old woman who had just been through a lot. It's a radiant yet mesmerizing performance for the 24-year old actress and certainly one of the year's best.

An Education is a smart yet brilliant film from Lone Scherfig with a great screenplay by Nick Hornby and a wonderful performance from Carey Mulligan. Featuring a wonderful cast that also includes Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper, and Rosamund Pike. It is definitely of 2009's best films as An Education is a must-see for anyone that wants to see a coming-of-age story that is worth exploring.

Lone Scherfig Films: (Dogme 12-Italian for Beginners) - (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself) - (Just Like Home) - One Day

(C) thevoid99 2012


s. said...

Excellent review! I really like this film, I think Rosamund Pike's performance is incredibly underrated. I especially loved the look of the movie - the cinematography was gorgeous.

Sam Fragoso said...

Sarsagard is evil in this film -- charming, yet manipulative -- still a rousing coming of age story. Sad, dangerous, and hopeful. Nice review Steven.

thevoid99 said...

@Sati-Thank you. I agree with you on Pike. Her performance was totally underrated.

@Sam-Thanks. I don't think Sarsgaard's character is evil but certainly someone with his own agenda.

Anonymous said...

It gets predictable by the end, but the performances in this flick were amazing and I think Mulligan should have definitely won the Oscar that year, had they not given the sympathy vote to Bullock. Sarsgaard was also great but then again, when isn't he?? Good review Steve.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-My vote also would've gone for Miss Mulligan. Fuckin' Sandra Bullock!

Diana said...

It's one of my favorite coming of age movies, mainly because it is a slow, rather dark and dramatic one, in comparison to the usual comedies or adventure types we find out there! Carey Mulligan is amazing in the main role and, as someone else said, the cinematography is stunning! I should buy the DVD soon!great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Diana-It's a film that I need to re-watch as I too hope to get it on DVD. I guess enough time has passed for me to not think about the day I saw it because it was a pretty bad day and on my 29th birthday as well when I first saw it.

Chip Lary said...

I liked this film, but I didn't love it. That's mostly because there were no real surprises in the story. It pretty much went by the book for movies like this, but I suppose when it's based on real life events it will follow the common course.

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-I haven't read the book it was based on so I can't really have an opinion on it. Then again, the book might be an entirely different beast in comparison to the film.