Sunday, 7 February 2010

I Don't Want To Lose My Virginity To A Piece Of Fruit.

I'm always surprised when a film gets only a couple of Oscar nominations, but one of them is for Best Picture. I guess this year that possibility was much higher with the expansion to ten nominees, but An Education has been tipped for inclusion in the finalists for ages, most people were calling it one of the five locks for a nomination, and that would mean most people would have included it in the list of five were this any one of the previous, what, sixty years or something. As it is, it only received noms for Best Actress (for Carey Mulligan) and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Nick Hornby, based on an autobiographical essay by Lynn Barber.) I guess that maybe means it wouldn't have been a lock for Best Picture in another year, it may have been squeezed out by something else, which would be a pity because it's a great little film.

Mulligan plays Jenny, a teenager studying at school with an aim to shortly finishing her A-levels and being accepted as an English major at Oxford. One rainy day on the way home from orchestra rehearsals, where she plays the cello to show she is rounded enough for the venerable tertiary institution, David (Peter Sarsgaard) stops and offers to give a ride to her cello, as he is a lover of music but would never dream of inviting a young girl into a stranger's car. So begins a relationship of sorts between Jenny and this much older, very smooth, oft-sleazy man.

David and his friend Danny (Dominic Cooper) make their money (and seem to make a fair bit of it) through dodgy art and property dealings, leaving a foul taste in Jenny's mouth (despite Danny's girlfriend Helen's - Rosamund Pike - entreaties not to think about it) that she nevertheless is able to overcome in order that she might maintain the exciting and very mature lifestyle she is leading as a sixteen/seventeen year old school student. When David proposes marriage she gives up her studies to become his doting and adventurous wife - only to discover that he already has one of those, and she is not the first mistress he has had.

The script is a lot of fun. Sarsgaard is perfectly sleazy and icky, despite obviously knowing how to exhibit exactly the right sort of charm to win over any particular person he sets his mind on. Mulligan plays his wide-eyed but precocious charge, seeming to learn life lessons just to throw those lessons back out the window, definitely up to the standard of an Oscar nomination - one of the more delightful showings I've seen in a while. All you want to do is take her by the hand, admire her fortitude, and then tell her she's a fool and there's a whole lot out there she doesn't understand before sending her up to her room to practice her cello. The supporting cast (Pike, Cooper, Emma Thompson as Jenny's headmistress, Sally Hawkins as David's wife) are all also very solid. Thompson, god love her, was Thompson, which is never a bad thing, but I loved Hawkins' brief scene. After being swept off my feet by her Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, it's nice to see her again.

Lone Scherfig may not have helped hammer in the 'year of the woman' title everyone was going for with the Oscars this year (if she had been up for Best Director alongside favourite Kathryn Bigelow, and if Jane Campion hadn't faded for Bright Star, it would have been quite a sensation), but she does a fine job of weaving Hornby's fantastic script into a humourous yet touching film, keeping it tight without it ever feeling rushed, letting the film breathe just enough without letting you get restless. It's a decade since her Dogme 95 film Italian For Beginners, and that decade has done a lot. 

A great film, enjoyable for a number of reasons to any number of people. It's not really forceful enough to leave deep lasting impressions past the script and Mulligan, and I imagine that's why it didn't register stronger with the Academy, (though I'd argue that Sarsgaard and possibly Alfred Molina as Jenny's father should have been paid a lot more attention this year) but it is very worthy of the acclaim it has received around the world regardless. 5 stars.

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