Back to School #71: An Education (dir by Lone Scherifg)


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When I first started this series of Back To School reviews, my plans was to somehow write and post 80 reviews over the course of just one week.  What was I thinking?  That one week has now become one month.  However, even if it has taken me longer than I originally planned, I’ve enjoyed writing these reviews and I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them.

We’ve been looking at these films in chronological order.  We started with 1946’s I Accuse My Parents and now, 70 reviews later, we have reached the wonderful year of 2009.  It seems somewhat appropriate, to me, that as we finally start to reach the end of this series (after this review, only 9 more to go!), we should take a look at one of my favorite films of all time, a film that was nominated for best picture and which introduced the world to one of the best actresses working today.

That film, of course, is An Education.

Set in 1961, An Education tells the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an intelligent and headstrong 16 year-old girl.  Jenny lives in London with her father (Alfred Molina) and mother (Cara Seymour), both of whom have decided that Jenny will eventually attend Oxford University.  She attends public school, where she’s a star pupil and a favorite of her teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and the stern headmistress (Emma Thompson).  Jenny is someone who, even at the age of 16, seems to have her entire life mapped out for her.

And then she meets David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard).  David is a handsome and charming older man who, spying Jenny walking in the rain, offers to give her a ride home.  Soon, Jenny and David are secretly pursuing a romantic relationship.  At first glance, David seems to be the perfect dream boyfriend.  He’s sophisticated.  He’s witty.  He knows about art and music and seems to be the exact opposite of Jenny’s boring, conservative father.  And David also has two beautiful friends, Danny (a devastatingly charming Dominic Cooper) and Danny’s glamorous girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike).

Jenny is drawn into David’s exciting circle of friends and, at first, it’s all so intoxicating that the little things don’t matter.  Jenny doesn’t ask, for instance, how David and Danny make their money.  When she finds out that David specifically moves black families into white neighborhoods in order to get people to move so that he can then buy and rent out their former homes, Jenny knows that it’s shady but she pretends not to be worried.  And when David and Danny steal a valuable antique map out of a country home, it’s far too exciting for Jenny to worry about the legality of it all…

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An Education is such a great film, I don’t even know where to begin in singing its praises.  The cast is absolutely brilliant, with Carey Mulligan proving herself to be a star and Peter Sarsgaard being so charismatic that, much like Jenny, you can’t help but get swept up in his world.  This was the first film that I ever noticed Dominic Cooper in and I walked out of the theater with a crush that I continue to have to this day.  The script, by novelist Nick Hornby, is full of witty lines and, even more importantly, it manages to find something very universal within Jenny’s very personal story.  We’ve all had a David Goldman in our life at some point.

However, what I think I really love about An Education is the way that it portrays the excitement of being just a little bit naughty.  One need only compare the vivid scenes in which David and Jenny dance at a club with the drab scenes of Jenny sitting in class to understand why Jenny (and so many other girls) would fall for a guy like David.

Perhaps my favorite image in the entire film is one in which, after having a fight out in the middle of the street, David and Jenny turn around to see Danny and Helen standing out on a beautiful balcony and waving down to them.  The two couples are just so beautiful and so glamorous that it really does become one of those moments where you really do wish you could just step into the movie and spend a few hours just hanging out with them.

An Education is one of the best!

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The Beautiful People (from L-R): Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Peter Sarsgaard, and Carey Mulligan.