An Education


An Education

They'll always have Paris...

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Ellie Kendrick.  Directed by Lone Scherfig

There comes a point in all of our lives when we are just on the cusp of blossoming from awkward teenager into adulthood. The world is alive with possibilities then, and our future is positively limitless. There is a magic in that period, one that we never ever re-capture except in memory.

It is London in 1961, not the swinging London of Carnaby Street but a London that is more 50s than 60s. The Beatles were still backing up Tony Sheridan then and the counterculture were brewing more in the American Beat generation than in the shores of the UK. It is a staid, conservative place and stifling for 16-year-old girls with stars in their eyes and dreams in the heart.

This exactly describes Jenny (Mulligan), whose parents Jack (Molina) and Marjorie (Seymour) want to get her into Oxford where she can put some of her intelligence to good use. They even have her join the student orchestra so that she has a better chance of matriculating there, but the thought of having her attend a concert to hear the music she’s learning to play never occurs to them. Jenny is tired of the pimply attempts at seduction by awkward boys and the trifling conversations of her peers. She wants more out of life.

Out of the rain comes David (Sarsgaard), a charming man nearly twice her age. He gives her a lift on a rainy day, taking her and her cello back home. They discuss the music of Edward Elgar and she finds him fascinating. He offers to take her to a concert; she agrees to it.

This might seem creepy, a 30-something man taking out a teenage girl – and it is – but Jenny is no ordinary teenager. She is fully aware that David’s attentions might turn to sex, but she’s adamant on waiting until she’s of legal age (which at the time was 17), and in the meantime she means to plunder every experience she can from the older man and he’s okay with that. They attend a series of art auctions and nightclub performances of jazz and classical music. He introduces her to champagne and cigarettes. He even takes her to Paris, promising her parents that they would be chaperoned by his aunt who lives there – and of course, someone whom she never actually meets. Her parents are as charmed by David as she is, but something like this can only end in tears and so it does.

Director Scherfig, who made the sadly underappreciated Italian for Beginners and the upcoming One Day, does a lot of things right here. She captures the period excellently, from the conservative suburban English attitudes of Twickenham to the sophistication of David and his friends Danny (Cooper) and Helen (Pike). She also cast very wisely, from brief but scintillating cameos by Thompson (as an uptight headmaster with subtle racist attitudes) and Hawkins, to meatier roles by Williams as a sad teacher who knows the waters Jenny is navigating well.

Molina, a veteran character actor who has many memorable performances to his credit, may have outdone himself here. Jack is naïve but his heart is in the right place; he is completely out of his depth and Molina captures that without getting maudlin. Seymour also hits all the right notes as the mother who may very well be living vicariously through her daughter the lifestyle she always wanted but never had. Sarsgaard oozes charm and snake oil as a character that is thoroughly rotten and knows it, but is just repentant enough to be relatable. His actions have no redeeming qualities, but the character does.

However, the movie belongs to Mulligan. She deserved the Oscar nomination she received here and although there was some grumbling that she was playing 16 as a 23-year-old, she truly brings Jenny to life, making her an indelible character that may well go down as one of the most memorable movie personalities in any single film of the decade. She has been compared to Audrey Hepburn by some critics, but I think it’s more accurate to say that Jenny is influenced by Hepburn, although Mulligan does share those gamine features that Hepburn was famous for. It is her transformation that makes the movie worth watching, and she carries it squarely on her shoulders. With the right roles, she could well be a star in the making.

The movie does rely a bit overly much on the charm of its actors and there is a low-key vibe that I think clashes with some of the serious aspects of the film. There is also a sexual frankness, mainly in dialogue, that might startle those who are sensitive about such things.

The movie is based on the memoirs of British journalist Lynn Barber, and it is worth noting that the screenplay was written by Nick Hornby, author of such books as “About a Boy” and “High Fidelity,” both of which were turned into pretty decent movies. I think it was Hornby’s doing that softened David up a bit and made him less of a creep and more of a pitiable creature; while Barber’s account treats her relationship a little bit more matter-of-factly, there’s a sense that the David-Jenny romance is being looked back upon with a bit of a sheen of sentimentality, which makes perfect sense. The education referred to here is not about Jenny’s romance with David – it’s about Jenny’s romance with life.

WHY RENT THIS: An Oscar-nominated performance by Mulligan and an overlooked supporting performance by Molina. Sarsgaard is also charming. Period capture is dead on.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Fairly low-key which handles a serious subject with a very light touch. Might be too sexually frank for some.

FAMILY VALUES: Some pretty adult thematic material as well as plenty of period smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Orlando Bloom was initially cast as Danny but dropped out a week before shooting began; he was replaced by Cooper, who had previously been in talks for the role.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some footage from the film’s Los Angeles premiere if you’re into that sort of thing.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $26.1M on a $7.5M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Kung Fu Panda 2

New Releases for the Week of November 6, 2009


Disney's A Christmas Carol

Ebeneezer Scrooge discovers a chain is gonna come.

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

(Disney) Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Lesley Manville, Jacquie Barnbrook, Daryl Sabara. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

There are very few humans alive in the western world that isn’t aware of the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The book has been the source of many film and television versions of the story, starring actors as disparate as Reginald Owen, Bill Murray, Henry Winkler, Marlo Thomas, George C. Scott, Alastair Sim and Tim Curry to name just a few taking on the role of notorious skinflint and Christmas hater Ebeneezer Scrooge. Now, Carrey is taking his shot, which is a loooong way from The Mask. This is also another motion capture film from Zemeckis (Polar Express, Beowulf).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for scary sequences and images)

An Education

(Sony Classics) Carey Mulligan, Peter Skarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson. Set in mid-60s London when it was just beginning to swing, young schoolgirl Jenny seems to be set on course for an education at Oxford when she meets an urbane and witty 30-something guy who becomes her new object of desire. He introduces her to a rarefied world of classical concerts, late-night supper clubs, art auctions and sophisticated company. He manages to charm her conservative parents, but her introduction into this new life threatens the one she had been making for herself. Mulligan is already receiving extravagant critical praise for her performance in this role.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking)

The Box

(Warner Brothers) Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn. What would you do if someone came to your door with a mysterious wooden box that contained a large red button and offered you a million dollars to push the button? The catch is that if you push the button, a complete stranger will die before their time in response. For the financially strapped Lewis family, this is not just a hypothetical situation when a horribly disfigured man arrives on their stoop with just such a proposition. They quickly learn the price for making that kind of decision could mean far more terrifying consequences than they could ever imagine.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images)

The Fourth Kind

(Universal) Milla Jojovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Corey Johnson. Ever since the 1960s the town of Nome, Alaska has had a disproportionate amount of disappearances among its general population, a trend that has never been explained. When a psychiatrist begins hypnotizing several traumatized patients to try and get at the root of what is distressing them, she videotapes the sessions. What happened next is all the more astonishing because it actually happened and the filmmakers here weave in footage from the actual hypnotherapy sessions with the recreated scenes here. My son thought this was the most disturbing trailer he’d ever seen. He might have something, there.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality)

The Men Who Stared at Goats

(Overture) George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey. A reporter looking for the kind of news story that will bring him fortune and glory instead finds Lyn Cassady, a broken down, scruffy man who claims to be part of an elite and shadowy military group that trains soldiers to use psychic powers to do, among other things, read minds, walk through solid walls and kill goats with a single thoughts. Now Cassady is off to find the program’s founder who has gone missing. Inspired by a non-fiction article in Esquire magazine, this marks the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated writer Grant Heslov.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language, some drug content and brief nudity)