Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Education: Grade C

An Education (2009)
Cary Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson; Director Lone Sherfig.

Mulligan is a teenager in London in the early sixties who is studying hard to get admitted to Oxford to “read” English. She meets and falls for an older playboy (Sarsgaard) who has plenty of money and a fancy car. He takes her to night clubs, jazz concerts, and even to Paris, and she is swept off her feet.

The contrast between the excitement and passion of this “good life” and the tedium of studying Latin verbs is sharply drawn. That contrast is also drawn, more importantly, between the promise of an alive, exciting future, and the crushingly cramped and dull lives her middle-class, suburban parents lead. Of course she chooses life in the large.

But when her boyfriend turns out to be not all that he seemed, she has the predictable epiphany about the short term pleasures of the senses and the long term value of an educated mind. It’s a predictable and well-worn story, but the acting by Mulligan and Sarsgaard is extremely good. (And Molina and Thompson, in small roles, perform brilliantly as you would expect). Mulligan clearly has enormous talent, and a poise and control that will make her a big star (this was her movie debut). Nevertheless there wasn’t much believable chemistry between the two leads, which I put down to weak directing. I never felt the love or passion that was supposed to be developing between them.

The script was snappy throughout and the photography and sets were good (especially the fine old cars and shots of London and Place Pigalle in Paris of a half-century ago). So there is plenty to keep a viewer interested, and even though, as an educator myself, I am a sucker for movies that glorify education, this is just not a very compelling movie overall.

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