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An Education
Directed by Lone Scherfig (2009)
Howard Schumann (howard16)     Print Article 
Published 2010-04-05 11:00 (KST)   
Howard Schumann rates "An Education" a B+.  <Editor's Note>
A charming 35-year-old man romances a naive 16-year-old high school student in An Education, one of ten films nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Oscars. The film, directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig from a screenplay by Nick Hornby, is based on the real life memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber who had a similar affair when she was 16. Set in the London suburb of Twickenham in 1961 before the Beatles "invasion," An Education stars Carey Mulligan in a breakout performance as Jenny Mellor, a highly intelligent, articulate, and witty young lady who has been working towards acceptance at Oxford when she gets sidetracked by the appeal of bourgeois pleasures.

The film works mainly because of her lovely and appealing presence that cajoles the viewer to be on her side and root for her and earned her an Oscar nomination in the Best Actress category. Peter Sarsgaard plays the smooth-talking "hit man" and, though he is involved in a rather dubious pursuit, the film is not sleazy but romantic and fun. Jenny loves everything French especially French blues and Burne-Jones art, is bored with her studies, and is not challenged by her only male friend, a young boy named Graham (Matthew Beard). Dominated by a conservative father (Alfred Molina), Jenny's longing for more excitement and adventure in her life takes shape when an older man, David, (Sarsgaard) gives her a lift to get her cello out of the rain.

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Telling her that he graduated from "the University of Life", David is persistent in getting the young girl to date him, ultimately giving Jenny a taste of the excitement she is craving. He takes her to classical concerts, upscale restaurants, foreign movies, and art auctions along with his business associate Danny (Dominic Cooper) and girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike) whom he tells Jenny's parents is her chaperone. In a revealing night club scene, Jenny is mesmerized and she feels fully alive when she hears a sultry singer delivering a torch song that reminds her of the Juliette Greco records she plays alone in her bedroom. After getting permission from her father to go with David to visit Oxford and then to Paris, Jenny thinks that David is the most fun person she has ever met. She rejects warnings delivered to her by the school's head mistress (Emma Thompson), whose main objection to David seems to be that he's Jewish, and her uptight English teacher (Olivia Williams), both stereotypical school teachers.

Unfortunately, Jenny's parents are presented as one-dimensional suburbanites who never question the appropriateness of her 16-year-old daughter being courted by a man approaching middle age. Even Jennie does not question David's motives at least until he shows off by encouraging her to place bids for him at an auction house which is more about money rather than art. It does not help either when he admits to her that his work is to move blacks into an area then buy up the houses when the Caucasians move out. "Schwartzes have to live somewhere," he tells Jenny. This will not be the end of revelations she will discover her about her beau.

Though he admires Jenny and genuinely enjoys her company, David's interest seems primarily physical. While he respects Jenny holding onto her virginity until she is 17, he is nonetheless eager to view her breasts and engage in condescending activities such as indulging in baby talk by assigning nicknames. While Jenny has opened herself to new experiences, she has cluttered her mind with desires that cannot be fulfilled and has barely given a thought to the world around her and the contribution she could potentially make. While the film is solid entertainment, well acted and directed and full of life, it is unadventurous and fails to probe its subject matter beyond a superficial rendering of the difference between bourgeois and bohemian ways of life, or the valid struggle many young people have between the demands of society or their own conscience and their longing for freedom and pleasure.
©2010 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Howard Schumann

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