Saturday, January 17, 2015

Too Cool For School

Year: 2009
Director: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Guess who has tildes on his keyboard and hasn't seen nearly enough Best Picture nominees? ~This guy~ Luckily, this guy also has a Sergio around to make sure he receives culture beyond the mildewy smear of 80's fashion that the slasher genre provides. Our most recent adventure into the fields of high(er) art is 2009's An Education, which has proven to be a pretty good stepping stone, what with its zero dismemberments and thoroughly unambitious visual schema.

It's a little bit comforting to learn that award-winning films can have aesthetics just as fundamentally bare bones as some upper-grade slashers. Although the content is certainly more flashy and artistic, An Education has no ambition to challenge the preset notions of what cinema is and can be aside from being generally pretty.

It is rarely actively bad, although there is some editing that strains to keep characters isolated from one another, distracting me immensely from the drama at hand. Also there's some awful YA garbage voiceover that just doesn't belong in a film like this. But that's about it.

In other news, Carey Mulligan will be young forever.

An Education regales us with the story of Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), an idealistic (read: irritating hipster) British schoolgirl in Twickenham in 1961. As the town's name might suggest, it's not the sort of place you want to spend your entire life, especially if you're the creative type. Jenny is pushed by her overbearing and hyper-conservative father (Alfred Molina who has basically never played a non-puppy-crushing character in his entire career) toward cello recitals and applying to Oxford. But when she meets a charming and debonair older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), he whisks her away into a life of high culture and pretentious bons mots.

As the story develops, it is revealed that David might not be exactly who he seems to be. This should be good news, considering that he seems to be a lecherous predator inappropriately lusting after a minor, but unfortunately things get even worse. It wouldn't be An Education if there wasn't an ironically terrible life lesson to be learned.

Like DON'T GET INTO STRANGERS' CARS! Also you're getting in on the wrong side. Damn Brits.

The plot is genuinely quite engaging, so the simple aesthetic isn't necessarily a negative, just a missed opportunity. Although the context of the time period is only used sparingly, there is a strong undercurrent of just how limited the options for young women in the 60's tended to be. When faced with either becoming a secretary, a schoolmarm, or a wife to a rich husband, it's easier to be fooled by someone who is the first person to insist you have taste and show you a glimpse of a life outside your parents' home.

Jenny is drawn to this image of a better life, but she has been so sheltered from the world that she doesn't understand that everything has drawbacks. Every young dreamer wants to go to Paris and watch movies and eat bread and dole out a couple forced showers, but they just can't understand all the bad in the world and Jenny is oh, so stupid.

The drama is tense and exciting at times, but my biggest qualm with the film is that it takes Jenny's side far too freely and willingly. For a great bulk of An Education, a man preying on a juvenile girl is treated with sumptuous respect as a grand love story for the ages. I can appreciate that as a decent try at expressionism, but it's far too off-putting and disagreeable to really become a solid spine for the film.

How romantic! They're running in the rain! I bet his intentions are pure and wholesome!

For what it's worth, the performances at the center of An Education are terrific, especially Carey Mulligan in her breakout starring role, bringing a youthful vibrance and authentic innocence that magnetizes viewers in spite of the character's insipidity. Second best in show would have to be Rosamund Pike in a pre-Gone Girl supporting role, who effortlessly embodies the spirit of Nick Hornby's dry wit.

Overall, thanks to its writing and performers, An Education is a light treat for fans of Oscarbait who want to engage with a story rather than being visually challenged. So basically, it's a great film for people who are tired of the pretention of the whole ceremony, and I'm not about to complain about that. It's just a little too loopy about its subject matter for me to wholeheartedly praise it as a solid unit.

TL;DR: An Education is an engaging tale built upon a strangely atonal foundation with a minimum of aesthetic ambition.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 805

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