Coming of Age: An Education

Carey Mulligan delivers a star making performance as a teen that learns some tough life lessons after an affair with an older man in An Education.

AN EDUCATION (2009)

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson
Written by: Nick Hornby
Directed by: Lorne Scherfig
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
95 Minutes

Well hello there Forget the Box readers; it’s good to be back.

I’ve come back to FTB full time after a pretty crazy couple of months. Some of it, like getting to be apart of the Toronto International Film Festival for a second year in a row, you already know about. Most of it is just too crazy or inappropriate to publish in this column. What I can say is that after going through a hailstorm of crap I feel like I’ve come out the other side a more independent, grown up version of myself. So in the spirit of the new me I’ve decided October will be dedicated to coming of age films.

In Lorne Scherfig’s excellent coming of age drama An Education, Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny, a middle class teen trying to navigate her way through early sixties British society. While Jenny is a pretty, bright young woman, the audience is reminded that before the sexual revolution women really only had two options in life:

A. Get married and have babies or

B. Be a teacher.

While Jenny’s stern but lovable father Jack (the always great Alfred Molina) pushes his daughter towards her goal of going to Oxford, he’d also be just as happy if she gave it all up for the right husband.

With her love of French culture and ambitions of an Ivy League education, at sixteen Jenny already seems wise beyond her years. That is perhaps what attracts David (Peter Sarsgaard) to her when they meet one rainy day outside of her school. What begins as an innocent and friendly encounter quickly turns into older and charming David pursuing Jenny into a sexual relationship.

All the reviews for this film that came out last year focused pretty much solely on the performance of Carey Mulligan. Mulligan’s greatest strength as an actress in my opinion are the looks she gives the camera. When Jenny stands alone in her darkened living room after David has betrayed her, mascara pouring down her face, the look she gives is totally heartbreaking.

I’m not saying that Mulligan didn’t deserve the praise she got for her performance, I think it’s great that post-Education she seems to be more than on her way to joining the Hollywood A list, but the truth is it’s pretty damn hard not to love the character of Jenny. My respect in this film goes to Peter Sarsgaard who has the much harder role of seducer David. Even though he’s clearly a man in his thirties hitting on a school girl he has to charm both Jenny and the audience into believing he might just be worth it. And then at the end of the film, when you discover just how deep his deceptions runs, Sarsgaard manages to make David seem more pathetic than a monster.

While I admire all the actors, the best part of this film in my opinion is the script. Written by one of my all time favorite novelists, Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity), the overall tone of the film manages to stay sweet and hopeful despite its heavy subject matter. Hornby is a master at writing about men in the midst of a mid life crisis and it’s nice to see that he can write about a young woman learning tough lessons about growing up with the same brilliance.

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