Nostalgic memoir looks at love mid-century-style
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
If you’re already addicted to the suave, mid-century setting of AMC’s “Mad Men,” you might want to give An Education a look-see. Think of it as an across-the-pond rumination on much the same temporal subject. Based on the memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber, the film relates Barber’s mildly scandalous teenage affair with a much older man.
Subbing for the real-life Lynn is our fictional gal Jenny (Carey Mulligan, Public Enemies). It’s the not-
Jenny’s dull, prepackaged life changes one day, however, when she crosses paths with smooth-talking bon vivant David (the always fine Peter Sarsgaard from Kinsey and Boys Don’t Cry). David is wealthy, drives a sports car, listens to jazz and occasionally jets off to Paris. He’s also roughly twice Jenny’s age. That doesn’t stop either of them from getting to know one another.
It’s a marginally skeevy situation. But images of that other mid-century classic, Lolita, are quickly dispelled. Jenny is extremely mature for her age. She’s intelligent, quick-witted and yearning for the sort of worldly “education” a public school can’t offer. David seems like the perfect professor. Fortunately, our impatient pupil is smart enough not to give away her virginity on a whim or (God forbid) get herself pregnant; but she is just naive enough to think that throwing out the odd French phrase makes her sophisticated.
Through David and his good-time friends (Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike), Jenny is introduced to a whole new world of Soho jazz clubs and Chelsea fashion boutiques. Ducking out from under her parents’ gaze, she grows from young girl to young woman. Ditching her drab schoolgirl outfits for little black dresses, Jenny’s stepping boldly into the modern (soon to be “mod”) world—but at what cost? Jenny wants to be liberated, she wants to see the world, she wants to drink Champagne and hobnob with important people, but she’s becoming little more than arm candy to a rich playboy. Eventually, Jenny considers David’s surface-level sincere offer of marriage. But when her parents heartily agree to it (she’ll be well-cared for and needn’t bother with university now), Jenny starts to question just how much progress she’s actually made. Landlocked between the too-conservative lifestyle of the early-’50s and the uninhibited freak-out of the late-’60s, our gal’s at a loss for direction.
For all its clever dialogue (given extra snap by novelist/
If An Education reaches a somewhat traditional, rather expected conclusion (Stay in school, gals!), it’s forgivable—perhaps because the characters and situations feel thoroughly authentic. Believable as it is, An Education doesn’t go in for that shabby, kitchen sink realism that the Brits so often admire. This is a sunny, nostalgic, humorous, ultimately romantic tale. Although it may not be romantic in the most conventional sense (Pride and Prejudice this ain’t), the film does expose us to an unforgettable heroine who is sincerely in love with life and all its possibilities—even if she isn’t quite sure of what those possibilities might be.