“An Education” puts forth the thesis that there are two roads to be traveled for a young girl on the cusp of womanhood: One involves pedophilia, con-artistry and glamour; the other, academia and a lifetime of loneliness.
We meet the film’s protagonist, Jenny (newcomer Carey Mulligan), at this fork in her travels. She is called on to make an important choice so irrevocably bound in her blossoming sense of self. In this film’s depiction of 1960s England, Jenny will either become a lonely educator living a life without luxury like her teacher or turn into a dumb, dazed, blonde piece of arm candy to a suave con artist who steals art for a living. OK, enough. Point made.
Though highly predictable and at some times painstakingly obvious, this coming-of-age story interlaces an exceptional amount of comedy with the perfect amount of serious, life-changing situations to create a legitimately delightful film. Director Lone Scherfig excels in establishing a rhythm of natural progression throughout the entire film, while expanding upon the witty and comedic script of screenwriter Nick Hornby. The exuberant, vibrant colors and patterns of the costumes jump off the screen and add visual excitement while staying true to the well-referenced time period.
The overarching theme of “An Education” never falls short of hitting its target, as it serves to be a redundant reminder of where life might take you. Would it be any surprise if 16-year-old Jenny makes the blatantly obvious choice to take the arm-candy route with 30-something hunk David (Peter Sarsgaard)? With his sexy British sports coupe, intoxicating charm and requests for Jenny to expose herself to him, who wouldn’t say, “Yes”? However, out of left field, this decision turns out to not have been the best idea, as Jenny finds out that David is married.
Well, the good thing for Jenny was that she didn’t forget to take her exams to get into Oxford. Oh wait… she did. What is she going to do? Thus begins her realization that she needs guidance from her matronly teacher in order to get her life back on track.
“An Education” is also Mulligan’s first lead in a film, something that might surprise audiences when they consider her already-audible Academy Awards buzz. At the age of 24, Mulligan’s sincerity, sweetness, innocence and sometimes sexiness transform her into anything but a teenager. This successful portrayal of youth on the edge of an explosion into a tempestuous adulthood is a credit to Mulligan’s talent: She captures both the earnestness and youthfulness of her character while dressed up in her school uniform, yet she is also able to convey a maturity that transcends Jenny’s childishness.
Despite the reductive binary the film creates for its female characters, “An Education” fulfills its purpose as a light-hearted and captivating film. It even mixes in a con artist aspect, reminiscent of the Frank William Abagnale, Jr. character from Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can,” which was also set during the swinging ’60s. Keep this one in mind come February; this movie has Oscar season written all over its pretentiously lovable face.