Movie Reviews

SC reviews: An Education

By Shu ChiangMovies - 26 November 2009 6:59 PM | Updated 09 December 2014

SC reviews: An Education

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Rating: 4 out of 5

The world of grown-ups, as seen through the eyes of an intelligent yet impressionable young girl, can seem deeply seductive.

People eat what they like, drink what they like, stay out for supper and listen to marvellous musical acts, without a single word from a parent to consider.

It's enough to make someone with little sense to drop everything and run off with the first man who can offer this to her, back in the day when women were less empowered to lead independent lives.

In An Education, a British coming-of-age story with a script by popular novelist Nick Hornby, based on journalist Lynn Barber's autobiography, the curious thing is that the schoolgirl protagonist Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is clearly no fool.

Set in 1960s England, Jenny is a private school student whose future looks bright, if prosaic. Her scholastic skills are enough to take her to Oxford -- if she bucks up in Latin -- and she doesn't get distracted by extra-curricular activities.

She has been brought up well enough to know about what men want, and how to keep their advances at bay. In her final year of school, however, the pretty teen has her head turned by a persuasive older gentleman, David (Peter Sarsgaard), and things inevitably lead Jenny off her previously determined path.

Such a premise could easily appear in run-of-the-mill television movies, cautionary tales about predatory males intent on ruining young girls' lives. In the able hands of Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) and Hornby, this story manages to refrain from predictability and have us hanging on every well-spoken word and well-crafted scene.

For the first half of the movie, we are charmed the way Jenny and her parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) are charmed, by David's manners, confidence and worldliness. In comparison to David, Jenny's only other suitor, a boy at school, seems a mere infant.

It is no easy feat for the filmmakers to have the audience view things through a young girl's eyes, with the authenticity this film brings across. Everything in a world of opportunities sparkles. It isn't about fame or money per se; it's about living one's life with full abandon, school and conventional education be damned.

Jenny is so swept up in this newfound outlook that she even has the audacity to lecture her teacher (Olivia Williams) on the futility of her own life. Such hubris usually precedes a heavy fall.

Casting may not be one of the most glamorous jobs in show business, but when the results are so fruitful, one has to offer kudos to the powers that be regarding An Education. The film is attracting early Oscar buzz for its magnificent cast, with much of it surrounding the tremendously impressive Mulligan.

Her Jenny effortless convinces of a suburban girl tired of education for the sake of education, and a humdrum existence, especially when there is a self-actualising life in the big city tantalisingly within reach.

Opposite her, the always reliable Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass) balances superficial charm with unctuous duplicity. Her disappointment is our disappointment, so well does Sarsgaard essay David, with his carefully engineered sophistication and means for subterfuge.

Apart from Williams and Molina, notable cast members include Dominic Cooper (The History Boys), former Bond girl Rosamund Pike, and a matronly Oscar-winner in Emma Thompson. They bring class and quality to an engaging film that never preaches or condescends.

Its biggest lessons involve the taking of life's journeys, be they in education or otherwise, without falling for the short cuts. In itself, the film is an illuminating example of the cinematic excellence that can be achieved when the creators go the extra mile -- to find the right talents for the job, and to tell a story well.

About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.

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An Education
  • An Education

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  • (10 Reviews)