Movie Review: An Education- A Charming and Believable Look at the Complexities of Growing Up

Being young has its advantages and also its inevitable difficulties. This familiar battle between experiencing life at a young age versus getting lost in adult responsibilities is the very focus of Lone Scherfig’s film An Education, a film that embraces acting subtlety as well as staying true to the delightfully nuanced script written by Nick Hornby. The film focuses on a young girl Jenny who is created with such charm and elegance by actress Carey Mulligan that it’s impossible not to sympathize or adore this darling girl. She is cultured thanks to her education that her father considers the most important aspect of life but she also values personal learning interests such as French films and music. Her believability as this torn and independent girl on the verge of womanhood is essential to understanding the message and overall pull of Lone Scherfig’s film. Since Lone is a female herself she is able to provide a fantastic understanding to this development and Carey Mulligan will pull you in with her beauty, intelligence, and overall demeanor. An Education is well written, brilliantly acted, and has a subtle plot development that is charming while at the same time heart wrenching. The preparation for life and living it are quite different things but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot exist alongside each other in an appropriate balance.

Jenny is the epitome of why looks are not just everything to a woman and the script goes to remarkable lengths to show why that is the truth. When compared to her dual couple counterpart Helen, who can’t tell the difference between languages or how even “Latin” people won’t speak Latin anymore, it is clear that a woman who is dense isn’t one particularly desirable to have. Jenny isn’t dense, in fact, she is the smartest girl in her class, plays the cello, and even speaks French on a whim. As she stands out in the rain one afternoon after school she is approached by an admirer of music named David who proposes to drive, if not her, her cello home so it doesn’t get wet. This undeniably and at times uncomfortably charming man, played elegantly by Peter Sarsgaard, practically sweeps Jenny, not to mention her parents, off her feet with his knowledge of music, films, and appreciation for culture. His casual and wayward lifestyle is defined as fun and Jenny can’t help herself to want a cultural life forever even though it is steadily revealed that not all is what it seems either with the life they live or how they are able to live it. Needless to say there is enough interesting dialogue and unique character depictions to keep the story from becoming dull. Alongside the talented Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard are another couple played by Dominic Cooper, playing the equally charming yet strangely elusive gentlemen named Danny, and Rosamund Pike as the beautiful but intellectually dull Helen. The couple’s outings are carefree but lack any relative meaning or structure, an inevitable jab at existentialism from the French book Jenny is reading near the beginning of the film.

However, the opposite spectrum is equally lacking meaning despite its rigid structure. Jenny’s father, portrayed in humorous and heartfelt fashion by veteran actor Alfred Molina, speaks of a proper school education as something to ensure his daughter’s eventual path to marriage and not as a path to dependence. The headmistress of the school, in a charming set of cameos by the talented Emma Thompson, also doesn’t provide a reason for the structure, something that alienates Jenny from her educational path and practically places her in danger of ever having a genuine future. What’s so ironic about the film’s parallel of two opposite spectrums of living life and learning about life is that neither of the two extremes carries the answers for Jenny, whether it’s David and his cultural knowledge or the determined bland life that the school’s headmistress foreshadows for confused Jenny. But the confusion, the experimentation, the mistakes are all a part of her education. While this sort of sounds cliché it is quite on point with the film and isn’t handled in a haphazardly way. All the technical achievements accentuate this journey of a talented young woman and handle the scripts plot development quite delicately. Each of the actors never over dramatize their emotions and make the presentation of this stories ups and downs as well as it’s shifts incredibly believable, especially with Alfred Molina who moves from befuddled responsible protector to vulnerable apologetic father quite well.

An Education, while a relic of a certain time and place, is certainly a film that will be quite resonant with most individuals due to its well developed characters and the message they carry with them. Any person watching this film will sink in their seat when they realize Jenny’s plans for a life fitting of her ideals isn’t what it turns out to be. Her mistake, which isn’t really hers alone to take the blame, looks as though it will affect her future indefinitely and will have to take the responsibility for such an action with unfortunate consequences. And while the idea of consequence remains there is the hope of a second chance alongside those who believe in us, whether it’s the support of our parents or some other figure that can guide us on the right path. As Jenny proclaims, “I feel old but not very wise,” there is a sentiment of regret with experience, which is natural and even beneficial for a proper education on life. Lone Scherfig’s ability to make this tale set in a certain time and place to remain practical as a lesson for future generations shows a director with a respect for believable subtlety and a finesse for genuine storytelling.

If there was a lost gem in the fall that might be overlooked by critics and audiences alike it will be An Education, which isn’t the type to receive a vast amount of marketing but definitely one to receive great praise. It is a genuine and remarkably honest story that isn’t forceful or overdramatic and instead delivers a believable and relatable tale for all types of demographics. From the vulnerable father who puts on a distant persona to the young girl experimenting in the moment An Education isn’t the product of exaggeration but rather a reflection of true experience. It’s refreshing to see a film that has charm, romance, emotional depth, and unique characters all in one fine presentation. Lone Scherfig’s talents as a director are displayed here and show the talent of a good storyteller who can relate her own gender understanding into something any demographic can appreciate.

Grade: A-

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