An Education – 2009
Once again, it is time to scale things back a bit as we are treated to a pleasant little BBC drama, in contrast to some of the big-budget blockbusters with big-name stars that were nominated for Best Picture along-side it like James Cameron’s Avatar and Quentin Terantino’s Inglorious Bastards . It is a coming of age movie that takes place in 1961, starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, and Alfred Molina. It was a great movie in that it was more subdued, realistic and charming.
The main protagonist was Jenny Mellor, played by Mulligan. She was a sixteen year-old girl who is in school, preparing to go to Oxford University. In fact, her controlling father, played by Molina, structures her time and curriculum with that single goal in mind. Her mother, Marjorie, played by Cara Seymour, generally has no say in anything though it is clear that she feels a certain amount of disappointment because she never got to have any fun before she got married.
Jenny leads a predetermined life, nearly following in her mother’s footsteps, until she meets the handsome and charming David Goldman, played by Sarsgaard. He appears out of nowhere and sweeps Jenny off her feet. Though he is mid to late twenties, he sweet talks the young girl, gets to know her parents and charms his way into their good graces. He is always the perfect gentleman, never taking advantage of the girl, never mistreating her.
He seems to have plenty of money, wears nice clothes, and drives a fancy sports car. David’s fun and exciting friends, Danny and Helen, played by Cooper and Pike, accept her into their group, and Jenny quickly begins to fall in love with him. He lifts her up out of her boring existence and shows her a new world. She begins to enjoy her life instead of just existing in it. David takes her away on weekend trips an even convinces her parents to let her go to Paris with him and his friends.
The only problem is that David is a con man. He and Danny are business partners who make money through shady deals and dishonest practices. For example, after stealing a valuable map from an old lady, David has to confess what he does to Jenny. He says, “We’re not clever like you, so we have to be clever in other ways, because if we weren’t, there would be no fun. We have to be clever with… maps and… and… Do you want to know what ‘stats’ are? ‘Stats’ are old ladies who are scared of colored people. So, we move the coloreds in and the old ladies move out, and I buy their flats cheap. That’s what I do. So now you know.”
And caught up in the excitement of his romantic charm, she turns a blind eye. And then he asks her to marry him. She drops out of school and her father supports her, thinking that she will at least be taken care of. But then Jenny finds one last dishonesty. David is already married and has made the same ovations of love to many other young girls. She is devastated.
Mulligan and Sarsgaard both did a fantastic job, especially Mulligan. She reminded me of a young Audrey Hepburn in the 1953 classic film, Roman Holiday. She had an intelligence about her that was absolutely necessary for the character, as well as a bright and cheery disposition. She was light and graceful with an air of nobility. She was a delight to watch. Sarsgaard was dashing and debonair with boyish good looks and yet a subtle dangerous mysteriousness as well. Funny enough, he reminded me of a young Keifer Sutherland. And the two had a really great on-screen chemistry that was easy to see.
The entire film was well-cast. The two significant teachers at Jenny’s school, the Miss Stubs, the literature teacher who has high hopes for Jenny, played by Olivia Williams, and the school’s headmistress, Miss Walters, played by Emma Thompson, who did not allow Jenny to return to the exclusive academy after dropping out.
And the movie had a nice feel-good ending. Jenny picks herself up emotionally and goes to Miss Stubbs at her home. She apologizes for her impertinent behavior and asks her for special tutoring. With a renewed sense of drive and ambition, Jenny is accepted into Oxford University, despite the interruption in her education.
The film was nominated for three Academy awards, including a Best Actress nod for Mulligan, but it sadly took home none. It was a nice little breath of fresh air that didn’t rely on big names or a big epic story, or even a big budget to lend it credence. It simply told a nice little story with a bit of drama, delivered by a competent cast of actors. But let’s be honest. Though it was a good movie, it never really had a chance of winning the Best Picture award. It was just too small.