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4 out of 5 stars
An Education
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69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Life is hard when you're sixteen and smarter than most of the people around you, especially when those people include your parents. You end up restless and bored much of the time and that, in combination with hormones, can cause you to sometimes do some very, very stupid things.

That's the situation Jenny (Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan, best known to me from her role as Sally Sparrow), is in in An Education, the Oscar-nominated movie from director Lone Scherfig and writer Nick Hornby (known for such works as About a Boy. Watch it and realize that pudgy little boy grew up to be, oh, quite lovely). She's very much fed up with her life and when she meets an older man, David (played by the always reliable Peter Sarsgaard), who gives her the respect and attention no one else does.

From the start it's pretty clear what David wants from her, and it's quite clear Jenny is at least somewhat aware of this. She seems to be willing to go along with that in return for the gifts, the activities and a chance to be around people who are more "her sort".

David is a charming fellow, even able to get Jenny's parents to accept him and allow her to do things like accompany him to Oxford or Paris. Her father (played by the always reliable Alfred Molina), appears to be completely snowed. Her mother less so, though she's still willing to let her daughter go off with this man in his 30's.

David's charms are somewhat undone when Jenny finds out the various ways he makes a living, which include, but are not limited to, stealing valuable art from old women. Surprisingly, she's willing to go along with this, but eventually finds out something even more dark and unpleasant about David.

The film is intelligent and entertaining and paints David in a surprisingly sympathetic light until towards the very end. I say "surprisingly" because do let's remember Jenny is a minor and what he does with her is what's described as "statutory rape" in many places and is even called "rape of a child" in others. Of course this fact isn't really addressed, but it was always there in the back of my mind.

I also found the character of Jenny to be delightful! Very smart, very charismatic, but also vulnerable and not quite as world-weary as she likes to think of herself as being. Her character, and indeed the entire story, is based on a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber. If there's more about Barber's life that she can turn into stories, I'd enjoy that. I'd like to see Jenny again.

It's somewhat hard to classify this movie. It's not a comedy, it's not a drama. It's certainly not a romantic comedy. It probably fits into that tired non-genre genre of "coming of age". I think I'll settle for just calling it "very good" and leave it at that.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2010
Superb! Wonderful story, excellent acting (unexpected performance from Peter Saarsgard), surprise appearance from Emma Thompson in a supporting role (I am guilty of adoring her - she can do no wrong in my book, even in Harry Potter.)

I typically love English coming of age stories and this is why, they do not disappoint. What a treat - great story telling infused with the credibility of fine acting and accesorized with vistas from the English countryside and Paris.

The lead actress is a better version of Katie Holmes at her age, I think she is headed for great things. She has truly mastered the ability to both play an intellectually superior and tenderly cocky adolescent - most often with facial expression- but equally be a fragile child in the presence of Peter's character. Ah-ha and I just looked her up after writing that, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role. :)

This is an enjoyable film for anyone with an interest in the topic.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
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An Education is based on Lynn Barber's memoir. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. Carey Mulligan is nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress (and many other acting awards). The entire cast is nominated for the Screen Actors Guild award.

The barest of plot details: The film is set outside London in 1962. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is sixteen, and one of the brightest students at her private girl's school. She wants to go to Oxford to read English literature. She meets a charming, friendly, older man.

This film is perhaps the perfect coming of age story. Yes, I realize what a strong statement that is. Lynn Barber's story is not necessarily unique, yet it is a product of the time she was raised. Still, as someone who came of age in the 1990's United States rather than the 1960's Britain, it could have been my story. It is the perfect coming of age story because this dichotomy between uniqueness and everywoman-ness.

Carey Mulligan is fantastic, but Peter Sarsgaard was mesmerizing. He completely nailed the British accent; I immediately checked [...] to see if he was, in fact, British. The entire cast is amazing, and the casting director deserves kudos as well. Rarely does one see a cast without a weak link. It's easily the best movie I've seen this year, and although there is some hesitation to such a bold statement, it is one of my favorite movies of all time. I'll see how well it stand up with time and multiple viewings, but this one is a modern classic. It's brilliant, moving, funny (Nick Hornby, remember) and immensely watchable and re-watchable. With the Oscars opening Best Picture to ten films this year, this one may have a shot at a nomination, and I hope it does.

Seriously, it's the best movie I saw in 2009.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2011
Format: DVD
**Spoiler alert**...though the plot really isn't a secret.

The basic plot of An Education is slight, but superb acting and directing lift the story of a schoolgirl's affair into a study of regret, fear and yearning--it's often very funny, sure, but still a little heartbreaking despite the essentially `happy ending.'

Carey Mulligan was rightly praised for her portrayal of Jenny, but I have to say that Peter Sarsgaard is incredible. He's no creepy conman who just wants to seduce a young girl. He wants to actually be her, to take all that freshness and curiosity into himself, to have all that possibility laid out before him. At heart he's all too aware of how badly his life has gone wrong. His business (working for notorious slumlord Peter Rachman) is tawdry, and his marriage and home are shabby. He's deceiving himself as well as Jenny when he spins his dreams and explanations; and he loves to see himself through her eyes--as a worldly, exciting man. Of course he's happy to wait for her to be ready to lose her virginity, of course he's peculiar in bed: sex was never the point. And tie-clipped David can't in reality compete with his more sophisticated and wealthier friend Danny, so he's terrified into rash action when he sees him flirting with Jenny.

Jenny and her mother both know that there's something a little bit wrong with David. Jenny has doubts about David from the moment he makes an asinine, flattering remark to her mother, but puts them aside. If I have one complaint about the movie it's this: to me it's implausible that Jenny would have ditched her A levels, even though I know it's a memoir and she DID ditch her A levels. As played by Mulligan, Jenny is smarter and more perceptive than that. She's someone who'd see no reason to make a choice between university and marriage.

The supporting cast is fabulous. Jenny's bombastic lower middle-class father yearns for his daughter to be clever and confident, able to mix with the `right' people. Caught wrong-footed by the more urbane David, whom he sees as his social superior, he's easily played. "All my life I've been scared," he admits to Jenny in the end, "I didn't want you to be scared."

Jenny's mother is wistful for the days when she knew how to get to St John's, Smith Square; her face and body language are pitch-perfect as she waits up for her daughter after that first date. She's a mother who remembers how it was--and wishes it could still be so. She's both terrified for her daughter and wishes that she was her. She knows David isn't quite right, but she's still charmed by him. And she appears to be a heck of a lot brighter than her husband, but like all the women in this film, has had limited opportunities.

Jenny's naïve but she's no victim. I see that some viewers don't find the story credible. From a modern perspective, especially an American perspective, perhaps it's not. But having grown up in pretty similar circumstances not too many years after Jenny, I found it to almost eerily reflect the times, the persuasions of class, and the desires of a young girl living in them. And having had a very similar conversation with a very similar headmistress, I can assure you that Emma Thompson's character is spot-on.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
"An Education," directed by Lone Scherfig from a screenplay by Nick Hornby, takes place in London in the early sixties. Jenny Mellor, played by Carey Mulligan, is a bright, middle-class high school girl whose goal is to read English at Oxford University. Although Jenny's father, Jack (Alfred Molina), loves his only child, he is an excitable and bombastic individual who constantly reminds his family how much everything costs. Jack's wife, Marjorie, calmly looks on while her husband rants and raves. Jenny appears to have a bright future ahead of her. She studies Latin, is well-versed in literature, plays the cello, speaks French, and dreams of leaving Twickenham, the London suburb where her family resides.

One rainy day, Jenny is offered a ride by David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard), a handsome man in his thirties. He soon asks her out and charms her parents so thoroughly that they permit her to spend time with him. He buys Jenny new clothes, takes her to night clubs and concerts, and even whisks her off to Paris with his sophisticated cronies. Jenny is so enamored of David and is having so much fun that she puts her studies and her ambitions for a college education on hold.

This film may be viewed as a coming-of-age story, but it is really less than that. It is a depressing tale of how a worldly man takes advantage of a naïve and easily dazzled teenager. Although all the actors turn in competent performances, the film ultimately falls flat. It is unthinkable that Jenny's bourgeois parents would let their daughter gallivant around with a man whom they barely know. Nor is it plausible that a bright girl like Jenny would be so foolish as to believe that she could have a future with a man more than twice her age.

Emma Thompson has a thankless role as Jenny's prissy and prejudiced headmistress, and Rosamund Pike is Helen, David's brainless and glamorous friend, who teaches Jenny how to dress fashionably and apply makeup. Olivia Williams plays Miss Stubbs, Jenny's stern English teacher, and she is one of the film's few bright spots. Miss Stubbs genuinely wants what is best for her prize pupil and is aghast to learn that this promising young lady may be about to throw away her future. Although Sarsgaard gives David an occasional bit of shading, his character is basically a sleaze. It is cringe-inducing to watch him beguile the inexperienced Jenny, who learns the hard way that there are no short-cuts to becoming an adult.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2010
Format: DVD
Based on a memoir by Lynn Barber, supposedly this script, adapted by novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy), was one of the great unproduced movies in Britain. Well no more. A winning performance by newcomer Carey Mulligan realizes a complex character in An Education, a fascinating study of growing up quickly in an adult world.

Following some dazzling opening credits, we see a teenage girl, Jenny (Mulligan), who is attending high school in the suburbs of London in 1961. Prodded by her parents to study hard and take cello, they dream of her acceptance to Oxford University and becoming financially secure. A top student, she desperately wants to break out of her routine and, instead, attend concerts, art galleries, and experience more of the world. Her parents feel otherwise. One rainy day, a handsome, older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard) drives up and offers her a lift home. David is a student of life. He attracts and fascinates her, and what starts innocently as an unlikely friendship develops into a deeper relationship. He is adept at charming her parents into letting her exceed her curfew and boundaries, and Jenny gets to go to an art auction, Oxford campus, and in time, even a romantic Paris getaway complete with a sunset by the River Seine.

Despite the overtures of a fellow student, Graham, he is no match for the sophisticated, mature, and apparently wealthy David. Jenny becomes self assured and even insubordinate to her teachers and principal despite their warnings and protestations. She revels in her new life with David and his carefree friends Danny and Helen, and the foursome venture into the night for partying and taking in the highlife. As romance deepens and her defiance of authority and protocol increases, can marriage be far behind, and how will Jenny's parents react?

David is a mystery as are his motives. What does he do for a living, and is he for real? Perhaps his carefree life is not as glamorous as it seems. As Jenny finds out, life can be full of joy and surprises, and one moment she can be master of her own fate and the next instant everything could come shattering down around her. As much as her world has broadened and expanded, she also learns about humility and contrition. Such is the education of a girl learning about herself at a crucial moment in her life.

Director Lone Scherfig does a splendid job of telling a coming of age tale that hits the right notes. What this film does well is to put us inside the head of Jenny. We feel her yearnings and frustrations. We experience her highs and exhilaration at finding a life beyond her home. We also hurt when morality is twisted and she is disappointed and betrayed. That's not just good writing (which it really is); it's a well directed ensemble of talented actors starting with Mulligan. Production values are modest, but the period costumes and background music are infectious and authentic.

Sarsgaard (Kinsey, Jarhead) is quite magnetic as the manipulative David and inflects a convincing British accent. His scenes with Mulligan are affecting and sustain interest. Alfred Molina is good as Jenny's stern father, while Emma Thompson is on too briefly as a proper school principal. Olivia Williams is effective as a teacher who will play a significant role in Jenny's future.

Aside from its portrayal of a teenager, the film depicts the apparently limited options for a graduating female at the time. She either could excel academically and get a job, or she could find a husband who could take care of her. It is interesting how Jenny's parents are motivated by this mode of thinking and how it guides their actions. There is an aspect to the story which borders on statutory laws regarding sex with a girl who is barely of adult age. The storytellers finesse their way around this and focus on the relationship and do a tasteful job in minimizing the lurid possibilities. Subtle hints of racism are folded into the narrative, this being the 1960's.

In the end, it is Carey Mulligan in a star making turn as the idealistic teen who matures ahead of her own time and learns about life the hard way. Love that poster.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2011
Format: DVD
I really enjoyed this. If you don't want to purchase this, I suggest renting on Netflix because there are some interesting deleted scenes, a few my friend and I agreed should have been left in. SPOILERS: There is a good scene with her two girlfriends in a diner after lies are uncovered, and another extended scene with Jenny in front of David's house. Perhaps these scenes were extraneous, but we liked them. Jenny pulled herself together in the end - although she asked to repeat her last year of school, she was not allowed to return, what did she have to accomplish since she dropped out? Although you see her studying in her room again, we felt that was handled a bit too neatly and quickly. Her ex-teacher obviously helped her, but how? Perhaps that didn't need elaboration but it seemed too simple, especially with how devastated she was. And, David just walks (drives) away in the end and he's never seen again. Perhaps too, this is an appropriate end for a creepy role. We were also disturbed at how easily her parents allowed her to be whisked away by an older man who was blatantly lying to everyone. Watch Danny's face (David's partner in crime) in many of the scenes - very subtle and well-done. His girlfriend (who was so beautiful in "Pride & Prejudice") was also very good (and dim). We loved the music and costumes also.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2010
Format: DVD
Jenny Mellor is a London schoolgirl, circa 1961, who has dreams of one day majoring in English Literature at Oxford University. But, at age 16, the wise-beyond-her-years Jenny wants more out of life than just the tightly regimented routine of book-learning and cello-playing that her father assures her is essential to achieving her goal. She yearns for a time when she will be able to think her own thoughts, be her own person, and live her own life. That's where David Goldman comes in. David is a dapper, smooth-talking, enticingly enigmatic older gentleman who invites Jenny into the tantalizing world of adulthood - of classical concerts, fine-dining, alcohol and cigarettes, and, of course, that mysterious, forbidden thing known as sex. But Jenny soon learns that growing up comes with a price - primarily the loss of that moral certitude that comes with youthful innocence - and that the adult world can be a great deal crueler and trickier to maneuver through than a naïve, headstrong, know-it-all teenager may be willing to acknowledge going in.

Astutely adapted by Nick Hornby, "An Education" is based on a memoir by Lynne Barber, an award-winning British journalist who attended Oxford before becoming a writer for "The Daily Telegraph," "The Observer" and many other reputable publications. Barber's tale is reflective of the kind of choices women were permitted to have in that pre-Women's Lib era of the early 1960s. Even an abnormally bright and gifted young lady like Jenny was forced to look upon an education at Oxford more as an end in itself than as a means to some greater end. Every adult Jenny queries as to just what exactly it is she is supposed to do with her life once she's fulfilled her requirements for graduation is left hemming and hawing in response to the question. This applies to her teacher (Olivia Williams) and principal (Emma Thompson) at school as well as to her own parents who are stuck in a stifling, humdrum middle class existence of their own. No wonder her head is set spinning by a man who appears to have risen above all that dreary domesticity and who can provide entrée for her into all the priciest restaurants and poshest nightclubs in London and who can even offer her romantic get-aways to Paris on a moment`s notice. But this is just the beginning of Jenny's "education," as she slowly comes to realize that people are not always who they say they are, and that there is a lot more to being "wise" in the ways of the world than what one can learn from books.

Jenny is played by Carey Mulligan in a star-making turn that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress of 2009. The comparisons between Ms. Mulligan and Audrey Hepburn have been noted by all who have seen or written about this film, so let me just state that her performance here is rich in grace, charm, subtlety and feistiness, and that she is most definitely a natural and commanding presence on the screen. As David, Peter Sarsgaard is cagily manipulative without becoming sleazy or smarmy in the process, and Alfred Molina makes his mark as the well-intentioned but often bumbling and self-centered father who plays the role of stern and concerned parent - except at the moment when it matters most.

Kudos also go to Lone Scherfig for her astute, solid and polished direction, to the movie's beautifully realized sense of place and period, and to a wonderful animated opening credit sequence that, appropriate to the era in which the movie is set, recalls the late great Saul Bass at his finest.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2010
Format: DVD
Set is 1961, this film is about intelligent, pretty high school girl living in overprotecting household. Her parents are pouring all of their hopes in their daughter's education at Oxford University which brings her high school life to a rigid routine of studing, cello practice and essay writing. A young woman is dreaming of her future colleage life as a way to liberate herself from the stiffness of her parents' stifling expectations, until one day she runs into a charismatic older man, David, who seems to be able to offer her all of her dreams rightr there, right now.

Marvelous cast of exceptional actors in this film and their well developed characters are true beauty of the film. For any girl who has ever wondered how to achieve her own path to lifestyle she wants this is a must see movie. For any parent(s) deparate to convince their rebelious, smart kid(s) why education is valuable this is a must see movie. For any fan of really good art film drama with great script and fantastic 1960s feel, music, hairstyle and fashion this is a must see movie. Exceptional in every possible way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2013
Format: DVD
This lovely controversial film dances out on the piano keys of Floyd Cramer and starts with a lively, young and happy tone. The soundtrack (Paul Englishby) then becomes smoky and faintly erotic while detailing a relationship that plays with the boundaries. Director Lone Scherfig pulls the emotions of the character of Jenny to equal anything of a much larger scale. Her depth of feeling matches that of Britain's own coming of age story in the early 1960's.

Carey Mulligan (Oscar nomination) comes prepared and is so convincing as Jenny. She does not want to settle for what she feels will be a boring and complacent life after University and dreams out loud of better things. Quite conveniently, David just happens to come along at the right time with an offer that Jenny cannot refuse; Himself. Coming from her young and intelligent beyond-her-years point of view, this is so easy to understand.

Peter Sarsgaard brings a whole character study to David along with an emotionally vulnerable side. He is able to seduce Jenny's parents (Alfred Molina - a standout as her father) right on board as easily as he influences her with a tall-tale of an author and dreams of Paris.

Jenny and David quickly become a couple. An older man and a confident, headstrong schoolgirl on the verge of graduating, then onward to Oxford. She takes a sharp left, against the advice of her Headmistress (Emma Thompson) and favorite teacher, Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams), and decides to go to Paris, among other key considerations with David and his friends. Jenny desperately wants to be an adult, live in a glamorous setting and stretch out her arms to embrace life.

Their age difference does not condescend you as the story remains plausible; warm and positive possibly in its absolute full conclusion, after the gut wrenching plot twist ("it's just another one of David's muddles and misunderstandings"). It leaves the cast, along with the viewer, reconciling their scattered feelings and then allows Jenny a logical discernment for her ongoing life.
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