Yep, you guessed it, another instructional manual for picking up high school chicks. About time, really.
An Education is about a 16 year old girl (Carey Mulligan) in London in the early sixties. She meets an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who’s a swingin’ bachelor and a bit of an artful dodger. AND he has a driver’s license. Rally round the carriage, we got ourselves a winner. He sweeps her off her feet with his posh car and sharp top hat and charms the knickers off her uptight parents to boot. She’s a clever girl and probably knows things are destined to go pear but Latin class is such an awful bore. (I just gave myself a headache.)
The story is based on an autobiographical magazine article by Lynn Barber. It’s a good read, blunt and slick. Qualities that are tough to dramatize over two hours.
Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About A Boy) loved the article and penned the script. It’s a got a few good lines, most of which go to Alfred Molina as the sweatered father and Emma Thompson as the buttoned headmistress. The two strongest actors give their characters a lot of potential, only to see them confined to the background. Peter Sarsgaard should be man of the match, but he somehow makes a complicated man seem painfully one dimensional. (If you saw the recent Mysteries of Pittsburgh, picture the same thing without the sexual ambiguity – a cheap b+w copy). And Carey Mulligan, who plays the lead and seems to be getting all the accolades, plays a smart girl who swims out too far, realizes she’s in over her head, and has the maturity to swim back to shore. Well played. Swimming is hard. For a second there I thought you were going to have to get your hair wet.
I think Nick Hornby is okay. I can watch High Fidelity any day of the week. But I think this is simply poorly written. And I think the director, Lone Scherfig, tries too hard to stay true to it, neglecting to cover up its shortcomings or zoom in on its strengths. Tell me more about how England was decimated by WWII. Go deeper into the way this Peter Rachman protege does his wheeling and dealing. Make the man a more complicated figure – a sexual misfit, for example – to explain why he doesn’t date women his own age.
If you’re into period piece porn there’s some eye candy. (A brief scene at the dog races takes the cake.) And people in the audience did seem smitten with the whole affair. So there’s that.
Scherfig got her start in the Dogme95 group (headed up by Lars Von Trier), famous for rigidly rejecting any and all cinematic conveniences – artificial lights, steady cams, budgets, the whole deal – but she’s certainly jumped on the bandwagon now.
I heard an anecdote once that somebody asked Kiyoshi Kurosawa what he would do if he had 10 times his usual budget. “Make 10 movies,” he said. Scherfig’s Dogme95 work Italian For Beginners is pretty good. She should have gotten more than one movie out of the 6 million An Education cost her.