An Education? Feels More Like a Learning Process

An Education tells the story of a bright young woman, Jenny played by Carey Mulligan, who is led astray by an older gentleman in 1960s London. The film focuses on Jenny as she goes from a young hopeful as she strives for Oxford to a distraught young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The events in the film as they unfold onscreen are mesmerizing. Everything is filmed so tastefully and with a touch of elegance that is difficult to find in movie making anymore. Perhaps it’s the setting of the movie that lends itself to this style of film making. Regardless, the camera seems so in tune with the script that it communicates with a clearly defined voice, in a way that many cinematographers are struggling to do. However, what the camera captures is just as engaging. While I had difficulty with some of the characters, more on that later, the acting in this film is absolutely phenomenal. Carey Mulligan captures Jenny’s fall from innocence with heartbreaking honesty and confusion, as I imagine any girl in her situation would feel. Her transformation from the naive schoolgirl to the talented young woman she becomes is an incredible story, largely due to what she brings to the role. There’s a reason she’s favored in so many Golden Globes pools for her performance. A surprising performance from Rosamund Pike in a supporting role was also amazing, particularly the dynamic between Rosamund Pike’s Helen and the character of Jenny. The two women are completely different in their approaches to life, but their ability to play off one another serves to create another interesting relationship in the film.
However, An Education is not without its faults. The acting is spectacular, but in some cases, acting just isn’t enough. There wasn’t enough of a believable character in Alfred Molina’s overprotective father role, Jack. In his defense, Molina does what he can with the character but the character is so unpredictably written. When the film starts we see Jack as a man obsessed with providing the best for his daughter, ensuring that he does whatever he can and whatever it takes to get his daughter into Oxford. Along the course of the film, he falls by the wayside. He’s just easily beguiled by David’s antics, Peter Saarsgard in the slimy role of his lifetime, as his 16 year old daughter is. It completely flips the overprotective father role into a man who is more than willing to give his daughter away to a middle-aged man. Perhaps it’s the times that we live in and all of the “To Catch a Predator” I’ve been watching, but as I watched the movie, I found myself asking “Okay, this guy is middle-aged, single, and hitting on a teenager. What the hell is wrong with him?” Jack, who is immediately suspicious of the age-appropriate suitor that Jenny first brings him, does not seem to be troubled by David. This kind of drastic character change could be talked about or at least something, but instead just comes off as bad storytelling. Sadly, Jack is not the only extremist male character. My main concern with most of the male characters was that the women were written beautifully and complex, but the men, even though Nick Hornby who penned the screenplay is male himself, were not afforded the same dignity. Although this is disappointing as a whole, it is refreshing to see women in film afforded a little more complexity.
At the heart of An Education, the intentions are good. Even the presentation of the film is worth applauding. The cinematography is tasteful and breathtaking at the same time, so completely heartfelt and in tune with the feelings of the characters. Also, Carey Mulligan’s performance is praise-worthy indeed and Rosamund Pike shines as I’ve never seen her before. The only downfall of the film is, surprisingly enough, the men in the film. They play as such extreme caricatures in an otherwise serious movie that it is sometimes distracting. Still, every movie has its faults and to criticize An Education for that would be unfair and a discredit to Carey Mulligan’s beautiful performance. Overall, An Education feels a little bit like a learning process.

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