As I am still catching up on all of the Oscar-nominated films from the past year, last night I checked one more off my list with Lone Scherfig's, An Education. This one was yet another pleasant surprise as it wildly exceeded my expectations. My mother mentioned I might like it, as she had seen it as part of AMC's Best Picture Showcase back in February. And indeed she was right!
An Education, starring Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard, and much to my surprise, Emma Thompson, presents the story of a 16-year-old school girl coming of age in 1960s London. Mulligan plays Jenny, our fresh-faced heroine, from a position of complete, unfettered honesty, and an indescrible sense of self. Little known until her performance in An Education, Mulligan is surely off to a whirlwind career. Her portrayal of Jenny is astounding, clearly reminisicent of Audrey Heburne at her greatest(which may explain her recent casting as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady).
Alfred Molina brings us the at-first, sterotypical over-protective father set on giving his daughter Jenny a first class classical education complete with exactly one "music/hobby" (in Jenny's case, the cello) in accordance with the strict acceptance standards Oxford University requires. As any young girl can probably atest, the father-daughter relationship is turbulent; however, through it all, the love they share for each other is constant and strong.
Jenny meets David (played by Peter Sarsgaard), a not-much-to-look-at older man while walking home in the pouring rain with her cello in hand. Asking to carry her cello in his car, as he is an avid cello fan, David presents himself as a kind, considerate, and "proper gentleman" (this of course does not last). Soon after their initial meeting, David and Jenny strike up a relationship, full of wine, French music, shopping, and "art dealing" leads Jenny on a winding path, ultimately leading her to question her entire sense of what is right and what is expected in life.
In an interesting twist, Jenny's parents, at first hestitant to allow their daughter to spend weekends in Paris with her David, soon become enchanted by his spell, just as their daughter (and we have). Practically swooning as a result of David's high-powered connections (to include a personal friendship with C.S. Lewis), Marjorie and Jack thrill at the idea of Jenny marrying the likes of someone such as David. Unfortunately, it is not until it is too late that they see the error in their own judgement.
Emma Thompson plays a small, but pivotal role as the headmistress of Jenny's school and serves as one of the only vestigages of reason in Jenny's now chaotic world. The headmistress and Jenny's teacher, Ms. Stubbs (played by Olivia Williams), foresee the poor decisions Jenny is about to make as a result of her love affair with a glamorous older man, and try to disuade her from her ill-informed choices. However, it is Jenny that must make the decisions in her own life; she is unwilling to take them at their word.
In the end, the fantasy life Jenny's been living does come crumbling down, leaving our Jenny left to contemplate her REAL education, only this time, not the education gained from her Latin lessons and concert rehearsals, but the education of life she has experienced through David.
The Bee Charmer Rating: A-