When I saw An Education with my roommate, he declared that in the last three days, "We've seen all the acting Hollywood has to offer." And although we've yet to see Nine, The Lovely Bones, Avatar, Up in the Air or Invictus, I am inclined to agree.
An Education, based upon Lynn Barber's memoirs, follows 16-year-old Jenny in pre-swinging 60s England as her parents push her towards Oxford and an older man begins courting her. We see hints of the youthful attitude that would spark The Sixties as we now know them, as Jenny questions the why and the wherefore of her uptight lifestyle. At the same time, the glamorous life of her suitor and his friends has a dark side that she is not ready for, making life quite difficult.
Carey Mulligan has been getting enough raves for her breakout performance. Must I really add fuel to this fire? Well--yeah! Yeah, of course I must! Mulligan gives a mature performance, utterly believable as an intelligent girl on the brink of womanhood. I am always most impressed with performances that remind me of people I know, and Mulligan reminds me of several. She's like Audrey Hepburn with a Daria-esque edge to her. It's a stunning performance that I can't do justice to, really. Suffice to say, she's among the year's best performances.
The female-heavy supporting cast is awesome. Cara Seymour is suitably loving yet a little distant as Jenny's pensive mum Marjorie. Rosamund Pike, who I love more and more, is tragic as the dim Helen, a woman desperately clinging to her ignorance as she becomes more aware of it. Sally Hawkins has only one scene and a few lines, but my God she's good. Emma Thompson and Olivia Williams are the teachers, and it is shocking to see the former so unlovable and the latter so plain. The men are represented by Alfred Molina, Peter Sarsgaard and Dominic Cooper. Molina is great as Jenny's exasperated, pushy father, and his monologue about the Oxford Tree is hilarious in both its writing and delivery. Sarsgaard is the older suitor, both charming and skeevy. Cooper is his bored friend, a more dastardly role than his turn in Mamma Mia!.
It's all good, really. Screenwriter Nick Hornby has crafted everyone believably enough, with the right dollops of humor, intelligence, and gravitas to make it all work. And director Lone Scherfig is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I love the way she moves the camera and arranges her actors and executes her scenes. It's perfect, just perfect. Music from the era complements the fine score by Paul Englishby. Cinematography by John Borman is subtle yet effective. And this is the 60s, which means costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux has a field day with the women's gowns and the men's suits. Gorgeous.
An Education is a genius film that you would be foolish to miss out on. You might as well have missed Juno in 2007. There's no reason for it: it's one of the best films of the year, and all ages can appreciate it. Grand.