Directed by Lone Scherfig and based on a memoir by English journalist Lynn Barber, An Education tells the story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a 16-year-old girl who thinks, apart from her troubles with Latin, she is more than ready to be accepted at Oxford University. Her life appears all laid out in front of her until she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming thirtysomething man who will show her that there is more to life than schoolwork. The attraction is immediate and David soon brings Jenny to concerts and events, where she discovers the high life and attempts to transition into her desired adulthood.
David swiftly becomes part of Jenny’s life, effortlessly charming her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour), allowing them to drive off on road trips without supervision. However, after Jenny decides that she will lose her virginity to David on the day of her 17th birthday, she is forced to rethink her priorities.
More than a love story between a young girl and an older man, An Education is a film that explores what most students will feel at some point in their academic pursuits: is a school education enough to prepare you for what you will face in university? Through its ups and downs, Jenny’s time with David gives her the maturity she needs to better understand herself, her desires and the world around her.
Carey Mulligan carries the film’s weight on her shoulders and offers a captivating performance. She brilliantly explores Jenny’s hesitation between being a teenager and being an adult. As for Sarsgaard, he has the difficult task of making David a likable character, without appearing too creepy or forceful in his relationship with Jenny. He is successful, as David appears both naive and awkward when he is around Jenny, though he remains an adult in his other relationships.
Apart from the acting, another element which helps make An Education such a remarkable film is its script. Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and About a Boy, offers a very sensible and touching story. His depiction of 1960s London is fascinating, in an era where the Beatles have not yet taken over Britain and where there is a palpable bitterness remaining from the war, something especially felt by Jenny’s parents. Jenny, representing a new generation of young women, feels on the edge of something bigger than herself.
An Education is a coming-of-age story that goes beyond appearances. The authenticity of the characters elevates this film to one of the best dramas of this cinematic year. No wonder it won the Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance film festival.
An Education plays at the AMC Forum 22 (2313 St. Catherine West.) $13, students $11. Tuesdays: $8.