An Education

The title is a double entendre in An Education, the film version of British journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir about the crash course she received in the “university of life” while studying for her A-levels in early-1960s suburban London. So, too, is Danish director Lone Scherfig’s movie something of a deceptively packaged Oscar-season bonbon—a seemingly benign, classily directed year-I-became-a-woman nostalgia trip that conceals a surprisingly tart, morally ambiguous center. The year is 1961, and the place Twickenham, where spirited, 16-year-old overachiever Jenny (Carey Mulligan) falls under the spell of David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard, doing a passable British accent), a thirtysomething Jewish entrepreneur with a purposefully vague CV who begins whisking Jenny off to glamorous concerts and art auctions—not, as it happens, exclusively for her erudition. Undeniably designed for mass consumption, An Education elides some potentially awkward bits of business, but Barber’s elemental tough-mindedness and lack of sentimentality remain constants, as does Mulligan’s enchanting central performance. Twenty-two when the film was shot, Mulligan is on-screen for nearly every frame of An Education, and in those 90-odd minutes, her Jenny seems to transform before us, from girlish insouciance to womanly self-confidence, from intellectual posturing to possessing a finely honed sense of personal taste. Mulligan gives us the sense that, right before our eyes, a star is born.
Starts: Oct. 16. Daily, 2009

 
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