written by Nick Hornby
directed by Lone Scherfig
starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Cara Seymour and Sally Hawkins
An Education is highly enjoyable and serviceable on nearly every level, but is it more than that? My uncertainty is due to the awesome power of its central performance from relative newcomer Carey Mulligan. She plays Jenny, the young woman whose education (in more forms than one) is the central focus of this film. She is sixteen, British, intelligent and willful. Alas, it is the sixties and there are only so many suitable predestined paths for her to choose...and none of them look appealing to the young adventurer. In walks David Goldman (Sarsgaard) an older man determined to show her a different kind of education. One of culture, music, sex and excitement. But like so many things in life wrapped in a package like Peter Sarsgaard, all is not as it seems.
Mulligan is absolutely bewitching as young Jenny. She expresses the heroine's quick, acerbic wit with not just her words. What this young woman does with a look, a smile that seems to know more than she speaks, and a gesture as simple as smoking a cigarette speaks volumes. As stated earlier, so good is Mulligan's performance that it almost distracts from how...something...this film is. Oh, what's the word I'm looking for? Jenny, a whiz at English (though she detests Latin) wouldn't have trouble finding the words. Wispy? Wispy as all get out? That seems to apply here.
I saw this movie over a month ago, and while Mulligan's performance refuses to let go, still burning bright in my memory, the movie comes across as slight and almost feathery. The film's third act seems almost fairytale-esque in its tying together of all the loose ends. "Oh no...David's a thief and a liar and he's married! And I've dropped out of school to be with him! What's a girl to do?" Apparently there's nothing that a quick meeting with Emma Thompson (perfectly stiff and entertaining in a delicious cameo) followed by a studying montage with Olivia Williams can't solve. I say this not to be harsh. I enjoyed this film immensely, but I enjoyed it because of Mulligan and the other actors breathing so much life into their characters. Rosamund Pike shines as the girlfriend of David Goldman's partner in crime (played by Dominic Cooper, who's also fine). Alfred Molina has moments of genuine humor as Jenny's stale father. And Olivia Williams does hot school teacher with her hair pinned up like nobody's business. Even Sally Hawkins, in her one scene, reaffirms that she was robbed of an Oscar nomination last year as she spins gold with a few lines and five minutes of screentime.
In a ten-wide best picture field, An Education will likely ride Mulligan's coattails all the way to a best picture nomination. And in a year that has yet to birth many really stunners, it may be deserving in a field so wide. But this is all, once again, a testament to Mulligan. She carries the film on her back, sometimes in a school girl's uniform in the rain, sometimes in heals, sometimes while making the most horrible discoveries about the men she loves and she never once breaks a sweat.