AN EDUCATION ****
Adolescence is a bitch.
How do we ever manage to put it all behind us?
Certainly many of us felt that we invented sex at 16 and knew precisely what life was all about back then.
It’s only after a few years have been well lived that you realize fully how little you actually understood anything.
It is 1961 in London.
JENNY (CAREY MULLIGAN) is a supremely sophisticated teenager. She’s unsuccessfully fighting extreme restlessness and boredom.
Her parents are a bit bourgeois but decent. Her father JACK (ALFRED MOLINA) is determined that she go to Oxford.
Jenny is open to the idea. But is there an actual point to all of this?
Bear in mind that the early 1960s were half a century ago. Women were not yet liberated on a grand scale. Career options were extremely limited for females. Reliable birth control and the sexual revolution were still several years away.
It was a drastically different age. Girls often married and had families very young. They grew up fast and were aware of their responsibilities early. It was extraordinarily different from the 21st century – where people take decades to find themselves and everyone’s wild, misguided youth stretches out to the age of 35.
Jenny is unsure of her future. But she longs for something exciting without knowing exactly what that might entail.
Her classmate, adorable, fresh faced GRAHAM (MICHAEL BEARD) worships the ground that she walks on. He tries. But he’s terribly awkward and naive.
Frankly, he’s too much of a boy for a girl who’s wise beyond her years.
One rainy afternoon after school, Jenny is waiting for a bus – cello in hand. She has no idea that her casual encounter with DAVID GOLDMAN (PETER SARSGAARD) will transform her life irrevocably.
He tells her that he’s a music lover and he couldn’t bear to see her instrument get wet and ruined. But he understands that he’s a stranger. So he promises to pack it safely in his car while she walks alongside.
Finally they both agree that this arrangement is just too ridiculous. She’s getting soaked. So Jenny slips into the front seat beside him.
David drives a rare burgundy luxury automobile that looks vaguely like a Jag. He has manners, refinement, wit…and he’s also easily 15 years older.
David is her dark exotic prince come to life.
He effortlessly talks her initially reluctant parents into letting her go out with him. He kisses her mother’s hand and teasingly reprimands Jenny for not telling him that she has a sister.
Smooth. Very smooth. Like a knife in butter…
They meet up with David’s friends HELEN (ROSAMUND PIKE) and DANNY (DOMINIC COOPER) at a classical concert.
Danny is polite and kind to Jenny. But there is a volatile, treacherous undercurrent to his nature. He eventually grows fond of the young girl. So much so that he begins to have second thoughts about her welfare.
Helen is a gorgeous English mod version of Catherine Deneuve with a sublime classic wardrobe. Those clothes could still be worn today and cause the same startling effect. Helen looks like she stepped directly out of an Alberta Ferretti ad.
She is warm towards Jenny as well. Underneath her high wattage glamour, she is unfailingly unpretentious. But she clearly can’t keep up with Jenny and the boys on an intellectual or common sense level.
Helen is decidedly dim.
Jenny exudes maturity. But she’s in way over her head with those two men.
Besides lying to her parents and flattering them in an empty, shallow way, David carefully avoids telling Jenny what he does for a living. He has ample funds to take her to nightclubs or wherever she desires. But he’s oddly mysterious about many details in his life.
Jenny’s excellent grades begin to fall precipitously. But she’s past the point of caring. Why should she attend Oxford when she can go out and have fun doing whatever interests her?
She has access to the best music, the most extravagant hangouts and the loveliest weekends imaginable. It is entirely because of David.
Jenny grew up with the idealistic notion that she would lose her virginity on her seventeenth birthday. Whoever she was involved with at that point would be the man that would sweep her off that pedestal and into a brand new adult world.
As that time draws near and her relationship with David intensifies, he promises to take her to Paris.
She tells him in their hotel room that she wants to postpone the momentous occasion until that specific date. David claims to have no problems with her sexual morality. He grabs her and whispers in a husky undertone, “We can still be romantic.”
When the fateful day finally dawns, she tells him after the fact that she found it disappointing…and very, very short.
Not at all surprising. In this existence, there are givers and there are takers.
Jenny has no conception that this idyllic highly charged romance – which she inadvertently gave up everything for – is set to coast into some surprisingly brutal waters.
She is about to become a woman in ways that she never imagined.
AN EDUCATION is based on LYNN BARBER’S memoir of the same name while the adaptation was done by novelist NICK HORNBY.
The art direction is breathtaking. The period details are authentic and astounding.
The cinematography is luminous and incredibly striking. Many night shots are enveloped in shades of deep purple and iris blue. It’s been a long time since Paris looked so ravishingly radiant on film.
Danish auteur LONE SCHERFIG is an assured and capable filmmaker. She is clearly an actor’s director with an excellent understanding of performance.
From the moment that the dream like wonder of FLOYD CRAMER’S ON THE REBOUND plays over the opening credits, you are pulled in magnetically.
The ending and resolution are rather abrupt. But, up until the last 15 minutes, it is a greatly enjoyable ride.
ALFRED MOLINA is sensational as Jenny’s blustering father. Though he feels that he has to be strict, he loves his daughter dearly and attempts to do the right thing.
DOMINIC COOPER is superb as David’s morally bankrupt friend who finally comes to the realization that Jenny is someone special.
ROSAMUND PIKE gives a skilled comedic rendering as the great looking, monumentally stylish and easily confused HELEN.
PETER SARSGAARD has never had an opportunity to be this seductive, charming or elegant. He takes it and runs with it. His impeccable British accent is flawless. PETER also has a wonderful scene where he breaks down emotionally in his car. He is magnificent beyond measure.
The fabulously accomplished SALLY HAWKINS shows up in a cameo just before the end.
But the entire film rests on CAREY MULLIGAN’S shoulders and she delivers. She possesses exceptional depth and grace. She begins as a precocious starry eyed kid and ends up as a cautious, deliberate young adult in the space of less than two hours.
This is her breakthrough role. She is utterly delightful.
AN EDUCATION is a potent, poisonous and poignant tale of growing up, learning the hard lessons and then letting it all go.
As always, experience is the best teacher.