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An Education

A 2009 movie directed by Lone Scherfig.

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Another By-the-Numbers Romance for a Another By-the-Numbers Oscar Season

  • Feb 27, 2010
 The Oscars just wouldn't feel right if there wasn't at least one obnoxious period-piece British romance to pander to the tastes of the more "sophisticated" members of the Academy. Surprisingly, even with the number of Best Picture nominees bloated to an inexcusable Ten this year, there's only one real qualifier among the chosen. Even more unusual, it takes place in a different decade instead of a different century. For the Academy's consideration: An Education.

An Education follows the delightfully un-torrid affair of sixteen-year-old Jenny, a witty and intelligent daughter of a stuffy middle-class family with a bright scholastic future waiting for her at Oxford. All of that takes a backseat the moment she gets a ride from an older man who introduces her to an extravagant lifestyle and seeks to steal her away from her parents, school, and oh-so-bright future.

All of this is way to obviously good to be true, so the minute these two meet the entire film becomes a rather drawn-out exercise in waiting for the other shoe to drop. Cinematic tours of sixties-era England and France punctuate countless scenes that are drearily low on charm and sexual tension, two things you would expect a storyline like this to stock up on. By the time the big reveal of David's horrible secret (which is almost as dull and underwhelming as his previously revealed "secrets"), all you can do is wonder how long they're going to take to wrap up Jenny's end of the story.

It doesn't take long, and that's probably one of the most frustrating things about the film. This is a story about a young teenage girl who is seduced by an older man, lured away from her home, sexually propositioned, pulled out of her scholastic career, and left to pull the pieces back together after the whole thing falls apart. Not only does she manage to do so, but she does it with such a minimum amount of time and effort wasted that by the time the credits role there appear to have been no consequences whatsoever. Coming-of-age stories usually involve major life-changes, positive or negative, that alter not only the evolving character's world view, but their present and future as well. By the time An Education neatly wraps itself up, the only thing that seems to have changed in Jenny's life is her answer to the "Are you a virgin" question. Middle-school crushes end more dramatically and devastatingly than this. Being lied to by a man trying to get in your pants isn't an education, it's a undeniable fact of life.

It doesn't help that the characters in the film don't sell you on any of it. Jenny is played up as such a smart, intelligent, and resourceful young woman, it's hard to feel sorry for her when she willfully ignores glaring reality after glaring reality just so she can go to concerts and feel grown-up running of to Paris. It seems more important for the deceitful David to be boyishly charming that his cons feel more like childish pranks than criminal deceptions; sort of like Mamet's House of Games starring the Little Rascals. And let's not forget Jenny's proper English father, the strict disciplinarian with far-reaching plans for his daughter's future, who switches from "Oxford or Death" to "Drop Out and Marry the Older Man" so fast it almost gives you whiplash.

None of this blame deserves to be heaped on the performers. Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina all turn in wonderful performances, and they can't be blamed for the fact that the shallow characters they play change emotions and perceptions not when they should, but when it is convenient for the script. Indeed, Mulligan more than earns her Best Actress nod. All of these actors manage to make you feel more for these characters more than they should, and almost make their illogical actions seem human. This is especially true for Molina as Jenny's Father, a character that makes the split personality of Doctor Octopus seem like a rational internal debate.

Most credit An Education to being based on the memoirs of Lynn Barber, when the truth is more along the lines that both the Nick Hornby screenplay and Barber's memoirs are based on a previously published article by Barber, which almost reads like a synopsis for the film. This leaves us with another overly-dry and forcibly-witty Hornby screenplay based on a memoir expanded from an article whose autobiographical validity has been questioned by some critics, and which broaches the topic of the seduction and deflowering of a young girl with the cool distance of a self-aggrandizing socialite (The sex was lousy and it was all daddy's fault). To this end, you can't really begrudge Hornby his Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, as he did remain faithful to the source material. But when it comes to Best Picture, you have to ask yourself if the source material was worth all of that effort in the first place.

Reprinted by author from MovieSucktastic.

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More An Education reviews
review by . April 29, 2010
The year is 1962, and sixteen-year old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a cello-playing student who hopes to attend Oxford. A chance meeting with a charming man twice her age quickly develops into a romance, opening up an exciting, glamorous world to the young girl.       This is a coming-of-age story with a wonderful script and a stellar cast. Young Carey Mulligan is pretty, funny, sensitive, and gutsy and has loads of charisma. She didn't look quite young enough but was still delightful. …
review by . March 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
An intelligent and ambitious young student meets a charming older man, who sweeps her off her feet with his lavish lifestyle, and very quickly threatens to jeopardize her dreams of studying at Oxford.    Carey Mulligan gives an admirably nuanced performance as the precocious 16-year-old Jenny, whose desire to escape her middle-class upbringing makes her ripe for seduction by the apparently world wise and street smart David, played intelligently by Peter Sarsgaard, who manages …
Quick Tip by . October 07, 2010
posted in Screen Gems
Carey Mulligan who plays Jenny in this 1960s period piece is amazing. But her performance is nearly wasted in what amounts to a boring film that literally undoes itself with 6 words with just a few minutes to go. Watch for her only.
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
An excellent depiction of the travesty that occurs when the father is unreliable and ignorant and the mother is foolish.
Quick Tip by . May 06, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A very well acted coming of age drama that examines the relationship between a young female student who falls for an amoral older man.
review by . April 01, 2010
AN EDUCATION gleams as little film so polished in every aspect that it is quite memorable. Based on a memoir by Lynn Barber and adapted very smartly for the screen by the talented Nick Hornby, AN EDUCATION, like every aspect of the film, is an understated bit of life. It is basically a 1960s London coming of age story of a 16 year old bright young student Jenny (Carey Mulligan, a true find) who life is focused on passing exams to gain entrance into Oxford to read English. Her father Jack (Alfred …
review by . February 10, 2010
Life is hard when you're sixteen and smarter than most of the people around you, especially when those people include your parents. You end up restless and bored much of the time and that, in combination with hormones, can cause you to sometimes do some very, very stupid things.    That's the situation Jenny (Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan, best known to me from her role as Sally Sparrow), is in in An Education, the Oscar-nominated movie from director Lone Scherfig and writer …
About the reviewer
S. Michael Wilson ()
I am the editor and coauthor of Monster Rallyand the author of Performed by Lugosi. I am also a co-host of the wildly popular film review podcast MovieSucktastic.      As a writer, … more
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About this movie


An Education is a 2009 British coming-of-age drama film based on an autobiographical memoir of the same title written by the British journalist Lynn Barber. The film was directed by Lone Scherfig, with screenplay written by Nick Hornby, and features an ensemble cast including Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams and Carey Mulligan in the lead role.

An Education premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, gaining critical acclaim. It screened on 10 September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival and was featured at the Telluride by the Sea Film Festival in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 19 September 2009. The film was shown on 9 October 2009, at the Mill Valley Film Festival. It went into theatrical release in the U.S. on October 16 and in the UK on October 30. On 2 February 2010 it was announced that the film had received three Academy Award Nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In England in 1961, following a youth orchestra rehearsal, Jenny Mellor, a schoolgirl, is given a lift home by a charming older man, David Goldman. The two strike up a relationship, which includes David's business partner Danny, and Danny's vapid mistress, Helen. David manages to charm Jenny's protective parents into allowing him to take her to concerts, jazz clubs, and even to Paris.

Jenny finds out that David makes money by moving black families into flats near elderly women ...
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Director: Lone Scherfig
Genre: Drama
Release Date: October 8, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Nick Hornby
DVD Release Date: March 30, 2010
Runtime: 100 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
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