Monday, October 12, 2009

An Education

Took a couple days off of the vamps and decided to see a couple of current movies. It's getting to be that time of year where everything seems to be essential viewing.

An Education

I saw this out of a sense of duty, not wanting to skip it and then have it show up in all the awards races, but I wasn't excited about it. All the hype about the film and the performance of Carey Mulligan had sort of crashed in on itself by the time I had a chance to see it.

I am happy to say, though, that this is indeed a wonderful film. From the outstandig opening credits sequence - Floyd Cramer Jr's infectious "On the Rebound" sets the tone and period of the story exceedingly well - I was in love. And all the praise for Mulligan's performance was not undeserved. I hesitate to join the throng proclaiming her the new Audrey Hepburn - comparisons like that bother me - but it's almost irresistible, watching her in those 60s costumes. Mulligan is asked to do a lot here. She must sometimes be very adult, while at other times still a child (her character is 16). And she's the kind of clever, precocious teenager that I wish I'd been (love affairs aside - or maybe not).

There are loads of juicy supporting roles. Peter Sarsgaard as David (though there's some argument as to whether - for the sake of award campaigning - to call him a lead or supporting player; I'd call him co-lead with Mulligan) is really phenomenal, and a quite convincing Englishman. Alfred Molina is outstanding as the overbearing priority-challenged father of Mulligan's character Jenny. And perhaps my favorite of the bunch, Olivia Williams (who I fall harder and harder for each week on Dollhouse) as one of Jenny's teachers, Miss Stubbs. Seeing her through Jenny's eyes, first as the speccy schoolmarm that's the last kind of person Jenny wants to be, then as an admirable and educated woman of independence, was possibly my favorite part of the movie. And don't miss Emma Thompson, whose headmistress character is only in a few small scenes, but her presence is fully felt - and oh, what a cold-hearted bitch she can be.

I love how reserved this film is, never stooping to show us the lurid details of Jenny's affair with David. And I love the layered meaning of the title. The movie is not just about Jenny being educated in the ways of adulthood and the sometime cruelty of love (not to mention men). Ultimately, it's about the value of an actual education, in Jenny's case potential acceptance at Oxford, despite the limited career prospects for women English scholars at that time. Also, I have to give some love to Nick Hornby for a very well-written script - delicious characters, pithy dialogue, and a well-constructed story.

My one complaint about the film is the very last scene, which I won't say too much about for obvious reasons, but which felt jarring (at least to me). There had been no voice-over narration up to this point, not that I have any objection to voice-over narration at all, and it just felt weird to hear Jenny suddenly commenting on the proceedings when she hadn't done so before the last 30 seconds of the film. What she's telling us would have played, I think, much better if the movie had simply found a way to show us instead of Jenny telling us.

It is a fairly exquisite film, though. Definitely on my Best Picture shortlist for the year (and may perhaps find its way onto my Top 10, though don't hold me to that).

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