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REVIEW: An Education

Class is in session, and this movie passes the test

An Education.
Courtesy Photo

Okay, listen up class! Sit down, we have to get started. We have a lot of ground to cover today. Stop talking and shooting spit balls.

Who wrote “chalk” as my middle name on the blackboard? That’s not funny.

We have a new student, and movie, to introduce you to. She’ll remind you a lot of Audrey Hepburn. And all you boys sitting around her, please refrain from constant talking and note passing.

It turns out Precious isn’t the only movie with a young girls break-out performance.

In An Education, Carey Mulligan plays this 16-year-old perfectly. She isn’t too precocious. She’s also not so naïve.

When we see the much older Peter Sarsgaard drive up and put the moves on her, she’s well aware of what’s going on.

And the audience falls for his lines, too. Maybe it’s just human nature to give someone the benefit of the doubt. After all, she was walking in the pouring rain with an expensive musical instrument. He may have just wanted to help her out.

To me, that’s a great achievement in a film. So often, a movie is made with characters falling for each other and it’s hard for us to figure out why. In this movie, you can clearly see why. That makes it all the more heartbreaking when things happen in the middle of the film that made it hard for me to really have sympathy for anything that happened to anyone in the story. I didn’t buy the rest of it at that point.

I remember seeing a movie called Blue Car about eight years ago. What made that so tough to take was the teacher (the very talented David Strathairn) is so much older, and he seduces the girl in a way that’s very forceful. In this story, both parties seem to be getting what they want out of the relationship.

She gets to go to Paris and buy expensive perfumes, as well as attending concerts that her lower-to-middle class family can’t afford.

That family consists of an actor that’s been a favorite of mine since I saw him in Boogie Nights – Alfred Molina. He’s such a strict father that I found it hard to believe he would be so easily seduced by Sarsgaard's charm and various stories.

I think it’s a travesty that Molina didn’t get an Oscar nomination for supporting actor. Sure, Christopher Waltz deserves to win it for Inglorious Basterds; but Molina is better than Matt Damon and Woody Harrelson (who was in the underrated military film The Messenger).

I wonder with Oscar nominations, if it’s the same thing that happens in sports when a player wins the MVP award. Sports shows always debate if it should be the best player in the league, or the player that is the most valuable to his team. Certainly that’s why Stanley Tucci got the nomination in the poorly reviewed Lonely Bones.

The sports comparisons work well with this movie because, Sandra Bullock is going to beat out Carey Mulligan for the Oscar, and Mulligan’s performance is so much better. And, if I wanted to throw in yet another sports reference – a mulligan in golf means you get a “do over.” After seeing Mulligan in this, and a small part in Brothers…she’s an actress that most directors probably wished they cast in their films the last couple years.

Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) writes some of my favorite fictional pieces, but this screenplay of his was based on a real story from a well-known journalist. I’m guessing this type of story will resonate more with women, many of whom probably have a similar story about being seduced by someone they knew little about.

That hardly makes this a “chick flick” – a phrase I’ve never cared for. I feel a good movie is a good movie, and we don’t need to label them unless we’re stocking the shelves at Blockbuster.

Okay, the review is getting a little long at this point. You can have recess now, play some four square, go to the bathroom…We’ll meet back here in 20 minutes...

Alright class, where were we?

It’s the second movie in the span of a few months that takes place in England in the early '60s (A Single Man being the other). I enjoyed both, even with their flaws.

There won’t be many coming-of-age stories better than this. The way Mulligan grows past her peers, but never gets arrogant about things, is a joy to watch. Even when she gets snotty with a teacher who seems to be stuck in a dead-end job, you can see where she’s coming from.

I heard a critic on TV mention the statutory rape aspect of the movie, and I’m not so sure that is something worth mentioning in a movie like this. It’s not the way it was in the previously mentioned Blue Car. And heck, many people's favorite movie is Harold & Maude. Did anyone mention statutory rape or child molestation in those reviews?

As I said, the teenager in this film knows what she’s doing. She even enters into a sexual relationship with Sarsgaard on her terms, not his. Sure, he might be tweaking the heart strings a bit, but doesn’t every man do that?

One thing I do wonder about the age difference. So many folks in Hollywood seem to not hold Woody Allen or Roman Polanski accountable for their transgressions (thanks for that word, Tiger). Would they watch this movie and think Sarsgaard did anything wrong? I also wonder if a film like this would be a good educational tool for anyone with a teenage girl that wants to date an older guy. It would surely pack a harder punch than a kid that’s used to her dad putting the kibosh on everything.

This film was beautifully shot, and has such engrossing performances. It makes it that much harder when the “character logic” as I call it, doesn’t always follow as it should. That doesn’t just go for her dad, but her. There’s a scene where she watches her lover and his friend steal a painting, and she leaves him. Well, that lasted about two minutes (literally). At that point in the movie, is anyone going to have sympathy for her if something horrible happens later?

We only have a few minutes until the bell rings, class. So I’ll just ask you if, after watching this movie, you think it would be more productive to further your education at Oxford. Or, would it be better to just marry someone that has a lot of money?

You might think your dad would say one thing, but hey…you’re saving him a fortune on tuition.

Class dismissed!