Newcomer Carey Mulligan stars as a 16-year-old who falls under the sway of Peter Sarsgaard’s thirty-something hepcat in post-war Britain. Adapted by Nick Hornby from Lynn Barber’s memoir, An Education looks back upon statutory rape as a rite of passage, and it’s a testament to fine performances that the film only feels icky in retrospect.
Mulligan musters memories of Audrey Hepburn, drinking in jazz clubs and every other symbol of sophistication that Sarsgaard’s predatory rake lavishes upon her. He’s so smooth her parents (played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) don’t just consent to the affair—they seem to fall in love, too. But will Jenny’s dream of attending Oxford get hijacked by this beau and his creepy bedroom baby-talk?
Directed by Lone Scherfig, An Education certainly means well, positioning Mulligan’s Jenny as a woman brighter and more promising than the possibilities offered by her era. Her futures are summed up in either Olivia Williams’ stern, sexless schoolmarm or Rosamund Pike’s glamorous, dim-bulb arm candy. Sarsgaard’s world of nightclubs, classical music and high fashion is rendered in lavish colors, sharply contrasting the rainy palate of Jenny’s boring prep school and dreary home life.
But something about the movie still feels false. There’s nobody better than Hornby at dissecting the way people define themselves through their tastes, but in other respects his screenplay is too fussy and neat for its own good. This is a middlebrow view of what must have been a messy affair. Scherfig keeps everything humming along at room temperature; with even the betrayals and recriminations occurring at a genteel pitch, as if everyone’s afraid to raise their voices.
Hornby’s novels always cut so close to the bone, it’s shocking how content An Education is to skate along the surface. C