Being a teenager is never easy and this is true whether you are male or female. My female relatives, friends and girlfriends have convinced me throughout the years that it is especially rough being a teenage girl. Who am I to argue with them?
An Education makes a strong case for being female, 16 and on the cusp of adulthood in 1960s London as being tumultuous and wrought with possible emotional trauma. It's also a pleasant, nostalgic, literate cinematic invitation to remember what it was like to be 16 and wrapped in the dangerous arms of love.
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a precocious 16-year-old, preparing for exams that will get her into Oxford to study English. Schoolwork is either uninspiring for her or a dreadful bore of childish activities, which she tolerates while fantasizing about her future. In a few years she sees herself living a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris and turning her back on all the provincial, stodgy facets of her home life. The first step to this new life: Oxford.
Oxford represents a gateway to freedom, to opportunity, to self-reliance, and Jenny dreams about it constantly. She works hard and tolerates everything in her life for the hope to get to this place. She is on the brink of being an independent woman and thinks this is the only way to live a certain way. That is until she meets David. After she meets David, everything shifts inside, and there might be a new way to get to live the life she wants to have. And she wants it right now, like teenagers often do.
David (Peter Sarsgaard) is much older than Jenny. David has money, he has a nice car, and he takes Jenny to swanky restaurants. David is a smooth talker and wins over her difficult parents with just a few sentences, and soon Jenny is off on weekend trips, falling for this man, who may or may not actually be good for her in the long run.
Jenny begins to question whether the labor toward university life is worth it when she's getting a taste of adulthood. This new relationship with David is the kind of freedom she's fantasized.
Who needs university when she already has romance, nightclubs, clothes and adventure? Who would want to go away to school when the time to be a woman is right then and now? Of course, Jenny's only 16, so it's not going to go down swimmingly.
An Education is a wonderfully composed and put together movie. Working from a smart little script from novelist Nick Hornby (About A Boy, High Fidelity) and adapted from a memoir by Lynn Barber, Danish director Lone Scherfig has made an astute film that delves into what it is like to be a teenage girl.
Being 16 and female has rarely been treated with such bittersweet, intelligent tenderness as it is in An Education.
The film is perfectly paced. It unfolds without hurry, letting events occur naturally without force. The plotting is so skillful that you begin to feel that maybe your apprehensions regarding David might be unfounded, and Jenny is smart enough to realize the course of her life. Then she looks 16 again, and you change your mind.
An Education captures the perilous pull of first love in all its glory. There's a precarious line between childhood and being an adult that we all face. Scherfig (via Barber/Hornby) looks into the nooks involving a relationship between a much younger teenager and the older man--the desire, the excitement and the manipulation. The freedom she sees in David, and this new life, might not be freedom at all, it might instead be confining her to regrets and lost dreams. These are delicate moments for Jenny (and other teenagers when romance is concerned), events that can happen and there might be no recovery.
Mulligan is beguiling and utterly charming as Jenny. It's hard to accurately portray the various emotional levels of a 16-year-old, but Mulligan nails this role. She's captured all the elements of a 16-year-old who longs to escape for a more exciting life. Mulligan goes from childish to womanly in the span of a few seconds.
She's vulnerable, carefree and confident at the same time. She alternates scenes full of the naivety of youth and the blushing heat of love repeatedly. The fact that there's no warning switch between these aspects of her character makes the performance controlled, free, unpredictable and very special. It's one of the finest acting performances of the year, hands-down.
An Education is smart, well-made, warm and very entertaining. It is the kind of film about a teenager but made for adults. I doubt teens who are flocking to see New Moon will take to it and that's too bad for them. An Education works as a fresh story or as a reminder to people, who have made it out of their teenage years without too much damage, of the sort of fragile path you have to traverse when you are 16, no matter if you are male or female.
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