A contender for Best Picture this year is An Education, a smartly written, well-acted coming-of-age drama about an intelligent teenage girl who, while attempting to get into Oxford, falls in love with an older, more rebellious man who encourages her to question much of her beliefs. Unfortunately, the movie's lackluster ending keeps it from greatness.
An Education, set in 1960's London, starts out as a great period piece, portraying a time where youth were beginning to question the values of their parents more so than ever. Twenty-four year old actress Carey Mulligan turns in a Golden-Globe nominated performance as Jenny, a sweet, innocent teenager who is disinterested with her father's insistence that everything she do be for getting into Oxford, but who hasn't found an outlet for her frustrations. Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming, slightly older man who knows how to win over people, but who also pays for his luxurious life by stealing.
Mulligan subtly dominates the film, portraying a character who is both naively innocent and wise beyond her years. Her performance isn't powerful in a way that she'll be remembered for years to come for the role, but she plays her part brilliantly. Sarsgaard, meanwhile, matches her pace for pace. One of my favorite actors, he has great chemistry with Mulligan despite being 15 years her senior. The other performances are strong as well, including those from Olivia Williams and Alfred Molina.
The performances are the best part about the movie, though the screenplay by Nick Hornby - based on the memoir by Lynn Barber - complements the actors' talents. An Education is well written and engaging. It's rarely melodramatic or sensational, and instead draws audiences in through its believable, real-life story.
Unfortunately, as good as An Education is, it suffers from an incredibly weak ending. Following the dramatic climax, director Lone Scherfig takes the movie through a cheerful montage to wrap things up; it feels like a cop out. What I thought was a movie about a significant, life-changing time in this girl's life suddenly turns out to be an insignificant blip that apparently had no effect on how things worked out.
An Education is a worthy film, but it never reaches its full potential. Still, the movie features some excellent performances, most notably from Carey Mulligan - who is bound to have a strong career ahead of her.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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