I'm still catching up with some of the 2009 movies I wanted to see but didn't get a chance to see in theaters. I had really wanted to see An Education because it was the first screenplay by Nick Hornby, one of my favorite authors. It also starred two of my favorite "underrated" actors, Peter Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina. It's the story of a bright but inexperienced 16-year-old girl's affair with a smooth talking, cultured 30-something man in early 1960's London. Sarsgaard plays the man, Molina plays her father, and the girl is played by relative newcomer Carey Mulligan. It's a sort of coming-of-age drama, with Hornby's knack for every day comedy, a killer soundtrack and tremendous performances all around.
David (Sarsgaard) charms young Jenny Millar (Mulligan) when they run into each other after one of her cello practices, and again a few days later when they unexpectedly cross paths again and he asks her out. Eventually, he even comes by her house and talks her father Jack (Molina) into letting Jenny go places that he would not normally let her go. The parents become just as charmed by David as young Jenny is, and soon Jenny is awash in life experiences that she wouldn't have had if she'd stayed at her boring school with all of its boring teachers and difficult studying. Jenny mostly still manages to get high marks in her classes, she's obviously the top student of the class, even with setting off to all parts of England and eventually Paris with the smooth talking David. But her English teacher and the school's Headmistress (played in a tiny role by the great Emma Thompson) begin to worry that Jenny is experiencing a bit too much life for such a young girl. Jenny and her parents are much too blinded by David's charm to come to this conclusion on their own and don't listen when the thought is thrown in their faces. As Jenny starts neglecting school a bit more to experience life with David, the title An Education begins to take on new meaning for our young herione, as she may not be getting the kind of education that she needs.
Sarsgaard is terrific as David, effortlessly affecting a British accent. David certainly knows how to play people, and Sarsgaard keeps the character mysterious enough and occasionally sweet enough to make sure he get what he wants from whoever he wants something from. Molina, for possibly the first time I've seen him in his native British accent, gives a wonderfully layered performance as Jack, the father. He wants what's best for his daughter, looks out for her, cares for her, is often the butt of her jokes, and is heartbroken when he lets her down. Molina showed what a truly amazing actor can do with just a look. He can tell a whole story with it, and he's hilarious as well. Mulligan won and was nominated for many awards (including an Oscar nom for Best Actress) and the accolades are richly deserved. Her Jenny is taken from a young girl, to a girl trying to be a woman, to a girl thinking she is a woman, back to young girl (but a bit less naive) throughout the brisk 96 minutes of the movie and Mulligan imbues each moment with a genuineness that is engrossing to watch.
It's interesting to see Hornby, who usually tends to tackle middle aged men stuck in adolescence, take on the coming-of-age of a young girl. He has said though, "I think the moment you're writing about somebody who's not exactly you, then the challenge is all equal. I was glad that everyone around me on this movie was a woman so that they could watch me carefully. But I don't remember anyone saying to me, 'That isn't how women think.'" so maybe it isn't that different from normal for him. The screenplay is tremendous in the balance it gives to developing each character, with more than just the two leads feeling like full blown people. It's a really good movie all around, and one I'm glad I caught up with.