TIFF 09 Review: An Education

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A beautifully told, classic coming of age tale through the eyes of a mature, cultured 16 year old growing up in suburban London in the 1960’s, Jenny (Carey Mulligan). Attending an all-girls school, she is by far the most inspired of her peers, the biggest dreamer. Though the dreams of her stern parents have their little girl studying at Oxford next year (and Jenny has the credentials and talent to see it through) her greatest joys come from listening to her Juliette Greco albums, as oppose to playing her cello, and speaking French instead of her dry school-book Latin. With Jenny’s cross into womanhood playing out for the duration of the film, this familiar struggle is an on going battle between her institutional obligations, and the new world she is carefully escorted into as she seeks her path in life.

 David (Sarsgaard), an older, intriguing gent swoops in in his sporty Bristol roadster claiming to be an innocent “music lover” offering help to get her cello home safely as the girl is standing in pouring rain after orchestra practice. And with this first meet, Jenny is left smitten. A string of encounters through the quiet English town lead to the man to the living room of Jenny’s parents. It is here he charms the couple into allowing him to date Jenny. With this, she is taken to a world she thought only lived by her favorite French movie stars, where a lady is dressed in white furs and elbow-length gloves, conversations consist of fine art and decadence, smoking promotes status and your martini is what ultimately defines you. Already a lover of Jazz, and eager to get into fabulous dresses and dance for nights on end with David and his exciting friends, Jenny arrives home to her mother describing it as the best night of her life. Jenny’s mother, a slave to housework sighs in reflection of her own wasted youth.

With her own Jean-Paul Belmondo parked in front of the school everyday she becomes the talk of the school, professors disapproving, peers drooling for details.

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Although handsome, playful and respectful, (and Jenny believes him to be the man of her dreams), he is a dark horse. It isn’t until a birthday trip to Paris that she learns the truth David’s crooked success in the shady world of art dealing. But Jenny is now deep in their circle; frequenting auctions, galleries, supper clubs, jazz dens and elite boutiques, it’s an intoxicating and delicious trap, and when David proposes to marry her with no support from his best friends, her investigation of David begins. 

With Nick Hornby’s script set in the sixties, the character of Jenny, her uncensored dialog, honest and naïve mannerism and all around bold persona make her the poster child in a time of revolution. And you get a killer soundtrack!  She represents everything going on with feminism at the time, women challenging a man’s world and a man’s mind. Refusing the traditional roles for women of that time by pursuing a life she wants and eventually realizing that that world isn’t made or broke on a man’s influence. She makes her final decision, and it is ultimately a redemptive one.

Hornby’s characters are wonderfully colorful, ranging from the seductive, hedonist beatnik-types of David’s world; most memorable is his best friend Danny, (Domenic Cooper) identical to Jude Law’s jazz-snob ‘Dickie Greenleaf’ in the noir-thriller Talented Mr. Ripley; to the repressed, working class parents of Jenny, living in a grey world, in which guilt and pressure consumes any chance of pleasure or play. But nobody tops David, an incredibly complex and tortured “gentleman”. As mentioned by Sarsgaard in person at the Q + A, David is a child.Though groomed and intriguing, with a quick wit to match that of any experienced playboy, his blind use of games and baby talk prove him to be a weight in Jenny’s determined path to blossom to her fullest.

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With a concept ripped right from the sappy, weepy girl-group anthems of the era, the story matures from its angsty and innocent beginnings found in any Shangri-Las or Spector-produced pop song to a learned, experienced narrator, examining her own worth and finding a road in life where wisdom and independence brings far greater rewards.  A required viewing for any young girl approaching that leap from the nest, especially the ones who seem to be invincible on their path to success!