An Education

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Oct. 20, 2009

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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

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. anon said... on Nov 6, 2009 at 02:34AM

“Finally someone's acknowledging the casual, grandiosely parent accomodated pedophilia in this!

This and Roman Polanski have obliterated my once held beliefs that statutory rape laws are silly.”

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2. Tom Myler said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 11:19PM

“I agree with this review. Something about this movie seemed very false. It's almost like there too much of a "Juno" influence. But overall, this movie is a big yuck for not taking very seriously the seriousness of what went on in the life of the girl.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2009 at 12:28PM

“Sirs, I know this may come as a surprise to you, but this is actually a British film made in Britain about British people. As you're no doubt unaware, the age of consent in Britain was and is 16, not 18. The Statutory rape/ paedophilia jibes don't really apply.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Dec 12, 2009 at 05:07PM

“#3 anonymous, you may quibble about the age of statutory rape in different jurisdictions, but the movie *is* about an experienced, predatory older man taking advantage of an underage girl. According to the movie, there are no consequences for risky behavior, emotional or physical. Then society wonders why there's so much dysfunction out there (people with mega-baggage, etc.). The lack of social cost for bad behavior encourages more bad behavior).”

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5. Maggie said... on Jan 14, 2010 at 04:13AM

“I too a, happy someone has finally written about the pedophile. I am soo tired of movies being made about older men dating/sleeping with/having sexual tension with teenagers. Life is not like this on the whole. As a young person myself, I can say that when any older adult even tries to flirt, all my girlfriends instantly think of that adult as a loser. Sounds harsh but it is the truth. We think he is someone who obviously can not either get or enjoy someone his own age. Clearly these are authors and filmmakers fantasies.”

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6. Steven Levine said... on Jan 15, 2010 at 01:56AM

“Obviously the writers and director have the feeling that Jews are swindling
bigotted con artists. In an otherwise credible film, this portrayel of Jews had no place in the film as it had absolutely no purpose whatsoever with anything of any relevance. It seemed as a cheap shot to me.”

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7. Dhalgren said... on Jan 17, 2010 at 12:18AM

“I saw the film tonight. I really liked the first two acts, but the third act was a tired, neat 'stay in school' PSA. I have to agree with Mr. Burns that the direction was tired and bland in this film. But the statutory rape comment should be better researched. The age of consent in the UK is 16.

And yes, from an artistic point of view, David (Peter Sarsgaard's character) is supposed to be creepy. The film doesn't condone his behaviour in the slightest.

And David being Jewish - I didn't see that as negative commentary on Jews. It gave the writer a chance to comment on how Jews were and are seen in the UK. Acclaimed Jewish British director Mike Leigh comments about it often through many different jewish characters.”

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8. Dave from UK said... on Feb 7, 2010 at 11:00PM

“I watched the movie "An Education" but you have it wrong. In the UK, the age of sexual consent has always been 16. Therefore the references to sex between Jenny and David do not address any issue of statutory rape. Furthermore, to refer to this movie as paedophilic is just plain rubbish. That term refers to sex between an adult and a sexually undeveloped child. An affair between a man in his thirties and a girl of 17 (She insisted on waiting until she was 17) is in no way paedophilic legally or morally. In both the UK and USA an age difference of 13 years may be considered unusual (decreasingly so), but not shocking, providing the girl is mature enough. In this movie, Jenny was mature enough but fell foul of a trickster - this happens to many women of all ages. Jenny at least had the maturity when she discovered his existing marriage, to admit that she had been hoodwinked and then set out to rebuild her life and give us all a happy ending.

It is a very nice movie!



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