Customer Review

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtly brilliant, August 1, 2011
This review is from: An Education (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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 12, 2012 8:21:04 PM PST
Tom McGee says:
Thanks for the helpful review, Jenny.

You have piqued my interest.

Tom

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 25, 2012 3:52:59 PM PST
JennyJuniper says:
So did you watch it? (And thanks for spelling 'piqued' correctly. I'm amazed at the number of professional writers who get that wrong.)
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