We’ve seen a number of coming of age story where the protagonist learns about the real meaning of life, or a snapshot of it as presented, and they either get corrupted by that earlier bit of education, or emerge all the more stronger from the episode. An Education here very much presents that dilemma at times when life throws us a path to a short cut, where hard work can be substituted with a taste of instant success, seducing us to go off the well beaten, proven track and head toward the thrill of having material success presented on a silver platter.
Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a wide-eyed 16 year old high school girl who’s quite brilliant in her studies save for Latin, and with the examinations just around the corner, parents Jack (Alfred Molina) and Majorie (Cara Seymour) urges her to drop her co-curricular activity of cello practice in order to mug and improve her grades. Little do they know that a chance encounter with David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man about twice the age of Jenny, would throw Jenny’s life upside down with the promises of a settle relationship, coupled with the systematic seduction of the high life – fast cars, swanky apartments, exotic goods – plenty of wining and dining, contacts with the who’s who and a pedigree history,
This story has plenty of bite to it, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable to sit through. While we can see the warning flags being waved all over the place, there’s a certain evil glee in witnessing how Jenny decides to ignore them and follow her heart instead of her head. But what really took the cake here is the portrayal of the role of parents. While parents generally always have our best interests at heart, and probably the fundamentals is to provide education on which we can build our foundation upon, sometimes we rely a lot on their wisdom and judgement to guide us out of troubled waters. However they too are susceptible to being blindsided and not blowing the whistle when the red flags get thrown up, and in this film, both Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are at their element in fleshing out their roles of the difficulties in parenting, and actually being none too bright and too innocent in their pretense, to the point of contradiction and hypocrisy as well.
A lot has been said about Carey Mulligan’s performance as Jenny the jailbait, and it’s pretty much raved about almost everywhere as being single-handedly the attraction to the film thanks to her sensitive performance, or with Peter Sarsgaard, one of my favourite modern day character actors, in his portrayal of the roguish schmuck David who gives this sense of intensity beneath a calm demeanour exhibited. In fact, the ensemble cast is almost what holds the film together and moves Nick Hornby’s screenplay along, such as Dominic Cooper’s Danny, and Rosamund Pike’s hilarious turn as the bimbotic blonde Helen. Look out too for Emma Thompson’s small role as the headmistress and Olivia Williams’ Miss Stubbs, who for all their good intentions and wisdom, get slighted quite unceremoniously in a sharp critique on their brand of education.
An Education is a film that reminds us, as much as I hate to admit, that there are no short cuts in life. We learn in the hope that our lives can be improved in time to come when we reap what we sow, and if some things are too good to be true in presenting that quick route to success, then it probably is just that. Just watch out for the pitfalls as you approach that route with eyes wide open. This is a highly recommended film for its message of how easily we get enticed by impressions, and for its all round performances by the ensemble cast. Clearly one of my favourites of the year!