“An Education” is the coming-of-age story of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a naïve 16-year-old girl growing up in a London suburb in 1961. Jenny is smart, confident, and knows exactly what she wants out of life … or at least what her domineering father (Alfred Molina) wants for her. One day, when Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), a handsome older man, she is swept up into a world no amount of studying could have prepared her for.
Jenny’s life has always been focused on one goal: an Oxford education. She sees her life of cello lessons and Latin classes as dull and boring; especially after meeting David and being introduced to his seductive life of jazz clubs, art auctions, and weekend trips to Paris. She is mesmerized by David, and when he proposes to her, even her father agrees that a wealthy husband is as good as, if not better than, a university degree. But is David too good to be true? Jenny has to decide what her priorities are and what kind of education she really wants.
“An Education” is a touching and poignant film that deserves each of its three Oscar nominations (best adapted screenplay, best leading actress, and best picture). The relationship between Jenny and David could easily go to a very creepy place, but the pacing of the film makes it easy for the audience to look past his age and see the mutual attraction that they share. Sarsgaard’s David does not come across as a seducing con man, preying on young girls, but as a man who falls in love with Jenny’s open mind and eagerness to learn.
Sarsgaard, Molina, and the rest of the supporting cast are wonderful, but it is newcomer Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Jenny that really steals the movie. The film hinges on Jenny; if the audience doesn’t care about her they won’t care about her story. Luckily, Mulligan’s Jenny is impossible not to fall in love with. She’s confident, but uncertain and intelligent, yet still unwise all at the same time. She’s a complex, layered character who, by the end of the film, is a completely different person than when it started.
In the beginning, Jenny knows everything. By the end she realizes that she knows nothing. This movie is a must-see for anyone who has ever found out that life is not what they expected it to be.