Written by: Nick Hornby
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper
Living the life of an adult comes in due time for everyone as skipping ahead can lead to experiences one is not mentally or emotionally equipped to take on just yet. An Education presents the opportunity to examine this conundrum as it takes a girl on a journey where she begins to evaluate everything she has taken in stride with life and learns several valuable lessons in the process.
A starlet in school and bound for Oxford, Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan) randomly meets the charming older David (Peter Sarsgaard). With their common interests in music, they strike up a friendship that shifts into a romance, as he dazzles her by taking her to shows, jazz clubs, and everything she wants to experience in life. This brings her to an impasse where she needs to decide if she wants to continue to live this life or the path set out by her parents.
Watching someone’s breakout performance feels so rewarding because it shows the inklings of what will make them great and Carey Mulligan dazzles in the role of Jenny. She’s someone who’s wise beyond her years and has interests most girls at her age do not pay mind to. When putting in the effort, she shines as a student and has an interest in the classical arts. Jenny enjoys speaking French and hopes to someday move to France, as she yearns to bask in a culture she sees as far more interesting than England. The path for her has been set by her parents, and glaringly enforced by the father (Alfred Molina), who will not accept anything other than this daughter attending Oxford. It even gets to a point where he lambasts her interest in continuing to play the cello because doing other activities would work better to place on her CV. Jenny lives by this structure and David’s appearance completely shakes it up.
The relationship between David and Jenny certainly falls into the inappropriate with their age gap even with her landing in the age of consent in England. An Education never loses sight of the inappropriateness especially when the camerawork and costume design continually make her look like a schoolgirl when in his presence. Regardless, she becomes enamored with him because she begins to see what he offers her as compared to the other alternatives in life. It becomes clear to her that a life of graduating from Oxford will only land her in a specific selection of professions she has no interest in pursuing and it takes plenty of hard work just to be in a boring position for the rest of her life. The freedom and different lifestyle David presents to her creates this alternative, which allows her to have a level of fun she never thought could be possible. Where the film really drives home its message comes from Jenny not being the only one enamored with this fellow.
One of the great supporting characters of many in An Education is Jack Mellor, Jenny’s father, portrayed by Alfred Molina. He has his snappily funny scenes but the way he changes his tune says plenty about this character and his true motivations in pushing his daughter so hard academically. It becomes disheartening at times just how willing he became to let his 16-year-old daughter go out with an older man when he figured it would help her out in the long run. Seriously misguided parenting on his part but it aptly gets called out in the story and presents a moment of reckoning for him. Molina puts in such a tremendous performance as this character, as his push to make his daughter successful comes at a large financial price. It erupts in a scene where tells her not everything in life comes free and her not taking things seriously jeopardizes the money they have invested in her education. A tough burden to place on the shoulders of the child, but it becomes a recurring theme where Jenny has a similar conversation with someone else that all of this fun comes at a price as well.
Another bright spot comes from the performance of Rosamund Pike as Helen. She’s the girlfriend of David’s friend, Danny (Dominic Cooper), and serves as someone making many observations throughout the story opposite to Jenny. Their first conversation occurs when the four meet to attend a classical show and in conversation, Jenny says a French phrase, which Helen cannot comprehend. It begins an onslaught of different times where it shows Helen does not have the education level the other three have accrued in their lifetime. The magic works in how she brings the realism of this lifestyle to Jenny and makes all the right looks to the right people to continue to push things along.
An Education contains so many bright moments of observation, as this singular experience for Jenny turns into a lifetime of lessons both inside and outside the classroom. It contains so many wonderful pieces of dialogue that cut right through the characters in nonchalant ways including one Jenny says while smoking a cigarette and looking into a bedroom. A journey of growth helmed wonderfully by Lone Scherfig, who knows how to direct astute female-led stories to their emotional zenith. Truly a wonderful effort by all those involved.