Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Education - Home Video Review

Release Date: October 9, 2009

The title An Education takes on many different meanings during the course of the film. It not only signifies the coming of age story for young Jenny but also has an underlying message about how we as adults still have much to learn ourselves as we teach our children about life's rewards and difficulties. The journey that Jenny goes on is one well worth taking in my opinion and one that others should experience as well.

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Netflix
Download Type: Instant Stream
Picture Quality: HD

Loves: Coming-of-age dramas
Likes: Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard
Neutral: Period piece films

I will state immediately and up front that I found this film to be kind of an enigma to me. I think much of that puzzlement comes from not really knowing how the age of sexual consent in Europe works. Different regions have their own set ages, Spain is 13 for instance, but in London where this film takes place the age is 16 and for some reason that constantly distracted me. I am not a prude though, I don't disagree with that law and in many ways understand it, but it is a culture shock sort of thing. Here in the United States we have been brought up to think any type of sexual behavior before the age of 18 is illegal at worst and frowned upon at least depending greatly on the circumstances. So the story line of An Education, while being rather straight forward, kind of threw me for a loop during most of its running time.

It is 1961 London, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is attending her last year at school before heading off to college. Her father, Jack (Alfred Molina) and mother Marjorie (Cara Seymour) have been pushing her hard to get her ready for the test she must take in order to get into Oxford the following year. Jenny abides by her parent's wishes for the most part and tries to please them as much as she can without letting on that she has tired of the whole ordeal. Day in and day out it is school, homework, sleep, rinse and repeat. She has her hobby playing the cello but even that is limited due to her studies. Her life as an exceptional student is at its peak as is her boredom when she eventually meets the devilishly handsome David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older gentleman that helps her home one rainy day.

Jenny's home life is just a little too bland for her liking.

She is smitten with him almost immediately. The combination of his good manners, good looks and being somebody that treats her like a woman instead of a school girl excites her beyond belief. The two of them become instant friends and before you know it David is over to the house wining and dining Jenny's parents. David is a charmer, a smooth talking and very well presented man who makes no apologies to Jenny's parents for wanting to court her. Jenny is of course ecstatic about the whole affair, she brags at school about all the great places David is taking her as well as taking a dramatic drop in her grades, much to the dismay of her teacher Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams) and the school headmistress (Emma Thompson). Before you know it Jenny and David are officially dating which leaves Jenny with two choices, continue with her studies and head to Oxford or to stick it out with David and see where things go.

Like I already mentioned, I had this very strange disconnect with the story in general. Because every time David would either show up at Jenny's house to be welcomed with open arms by her parents or how Jenny would be allowed to partake in all the adult after hours shenanigans David and his friends, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike), got into had me at a loss. It took a while to adjust to the thought of parents allowing their 16 year old daughter to date a man that is clearly in his mid thirties but once I did everything flowed much better for me. As a matter of fact I ended up liking the film a bit more than I think I would have otherwise because of that. If it had taken the familiar route of disagreeing parents over their daughter's future I'm not sure it would have had the same impact. It came at the whole thing from a fresh perspective which I enjoyed immensely, well a fresh one for us westerners anyways.

Jenny awaits her destiny after cello practice.

Now with that all out of the way let's get on with my thoughts on the film itself. I found the title of the film to be kind of a red herring and a play on the different meanings that can be associated with the phrase "An Education". The most literal interpretation is of course that Jenny is learning about living life to its fullest with David as her teacher, however as her relationship with him begins to blossom that point of view begins to become slightly skewed. She ends up being educated in ways that she never expected and she isn't the only one either. To say any more than that would be ruining how Jenny's journey into adulthood unfolds.

Carey Mulligan does an amazing job of coming off as this naive young girl whom thinks she knows what she wants Her eventual transformation into a cultured woman is what really struck me as sort of special because we are asked to believe her as this book smart school girl that lacks any type of street smarts and then witness first hand how she grows up both physically and mentally. When they initially begin seeing each other she is giddy as...well, as a school girl. She is constantly impressed with how David is able to do and get whatever he wants simply by talking to people with that silver tongue of his. Then later as she starts to become wise to how things work in the adult world, specifically David's world, the luster of it all begins to wither away and we start to see question that world. Carey Mulligan pulls it all of without a hitch and there wasn't a moment that I questioned her choices no matter how absurd they were.

David impresses Jenny's parents with both his manners and appearance.

Peter Sarsgaard as David, well his character is a little hard to talk about due to his hidden complexities. When he enters Jenny's home for the first time and charms the pants off her parents it is clear that he has quite a bit of experience dealing with people of which he wants something from. Sarsgaard plays him just right though because he could easily slip over to the creepy zone with how enamored he is with young Jenny. He displays just the right amount of self confidence in what he does and who he is all the while being anxiously reserved during his bedroom sessions with Jenny. When she states that she doesn't want to do anything sexual until she is 17, because that is the age at which she has decided it would be alright if she got pregnant, David must hold back his instinctual reactions to her until then and Peter Sarsgaard plays out equal parts of frustration and anticipation perfectly.

I must say that the two of them display a tremendous amount of chemistry together. The personalities that Mulligan and Sarsgaard infuse Jenny and David with leaves no doubt in your mind that their feelings for each other at any particular moment in time is true. Later in their relationship David convinces Jenny's parents to let her fly to Paris with him. This trip is supposed to be the moment where they finally get to consummate their affections for one another and Jenny has instructions that David must follow. The entire day they spend together there, including the night, David must treat her like a woman, not a school girl so that way when it happens it will mean something to her and he can make it as special a moment for her as possible. David is more than happy to oblige and even takes into consideration the pains she is going to go through and brings along a "little helper" if she needs it. It is that level of trust the two show for each other that made their relationship work for me and it only helps to deepen the impact of things to come later.

Jenny is all grown up and ready to mingle.

I think the moments that rang most true for me though were the times that Jenny was being introduced to this world outside her school girl life and how she grew from that.When she is first being introduced to the night life she couldn't have seemed more out of place if she tried. She is excited at all the possibilities this life could hold for her and everything she begins to learn outside of school is a stark contrast to what she was raised to believe. When she questions the headmistress about what it all means, having an education and trying to better ones self, she honestly has no answer for her. What Jenny eventually learns and what I believe to be the ultimate meaning behind the film as a whole is that there is no easy answer to that question. You try to better yourself for you, you shouldn't live your life to please others but at the same time you should be mindful of the paths you choose. And of course that at the age of 16 we all have things to learn about life and love that can only be taught through life experiences.

Surprisingly I didn't really have any issues with the film. I hate to bring it up again but the only real issue that popped up was that disconnect and the only thing that really bothered me due to that was how Jenny's parents dealt with everything. We see how Jenny's father has made her sacrifice most of her childhood in preparation for Oxford, he won't even let her play her cello, but when David shows up he begins to shift on that position. Soon he is hoping that Jenny will stay with David because of all these connections he seems to have (which we know from minute one as does Jenny that he is lying through his teeth). I found it rather hard to believe that any father would encourage their daughter to drop all their school work they are doing and try to hook up with a seemingly rich older man instead. Maybe he is just a father that was blinded by David's slithery ways but I still didn't buy into it. Then again I couldn't understand why a father would let his daughter date a man like David in the first place so I suppose that is all sort of a moot point.

Nothing says "I Love You" more than a banana.
But I really have nothing negative to say. The film is beautifully shot, well acted and has a message that is well worth exploration. Carey Mulligan proves herself to be an actress worthy of the accolades she has been getting and single handedly steals the show, which wasn't really that unexpected. It takes a well written and acted script for me to follow a very naive character like Jenny, witness many of the wrong (and right) decisions she makes and in the end not fault her for anything she chose to do. I guess I would have to say that if you are looking for a coming of age drama dealing with a subject that isn't usually explored in this great detail then by all means...


An Education [Blu-ray]


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