“A Class Act”
Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Superbly directed by award-winning Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”), and sporting a terrific screenplay by Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity”), “An Education” is a delightful and very moving coming-of-age drama that makes the grade in almost every way. But without question, it’s Carey Mulligan’s ivy-league performance that really puts the film (based on journalist Lynn Barber’s memoirs) in a class all by itself.
The year is 1961, and Mulligan plays Jenny, an attractive 16-year-old schoolgirl who speaks fluent French, plays the cello and dreams of going to Oxford. Jenny is ready to break free from the confines of her suburban London household, so it’s a welcome change of pace when she falls for David (Peter Sarsgaard), a seductive, sophisticated businessman who’s well into his 30s.
Jenny’s conservative parents don’t seem to mind their age difference once they realize how established David is, and in no time, he introduces her to a world she never knew, complete with classical music concerts, expensive dinners and posh art auctions. Jenny was already wise beyond her years, but is she growing up too fast? And what is it about her mysterious chaperone? Does he have a hidden agenda? Is there more to David than meets the eye?
“An Education” is filled with great performances – almost too many to keep track of. Peter Sarsgaard is charming and seductive as David, so it’s easy to see why Jenny and her parents fall under his spell. Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike are also very good as David’s sleazy business partner and his dim-witted girlfriend, while Alfred Molina and Emma Thompson resonate strongly as Jenny’s stern father and strict school headmistress.
But “An Education” clearly belongs to Carey Mulligan. Hers is what Oscar-worthy performances are made of, and it’s truly breathtaking to see her transform from a bookish schoolgirl to a radiant socialite. It’s a star-making turn if there ever was one, and any comparisons made to Audrey Hepburn’s iconic roles in “Roman Holiday” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” are completely justified.
Unfortunately, “An Education” doesn’t fully pass with flying colors, thanks to an ending that’s abrupt, tidy and somewhat predictable (though not to moviegoers who really did their homework here). But these are minor complaints when you marvel at the sheer beauty of Mulligan’s breakthrough performance, which is bound to go to the head of the class come Oscar time.
Verdict: SEE IT!