I will admit that as a bored high school student I would sometimes sit in class staring out the window fantasizing about a handsome man pulling up in a fancy sports car and whisking me away to a more exciting life. So I can completely understand how 16-year old Jenny is seduced by an older, seemingly sophisticated man in An Education.
It’s 1961 England and young Jenny, played by Carey Mulligan, is feeling stuck in her adolescent world and dreams of her life to come while listening to French music in her suburban bedroom. She and her parents believe that for her, the path to adulthood leads directly through Oxford University and Jenny is well on her way, excelling at all of her studies, except for Latin. Then one rainy day while waiting for the bus she meets a man who will show her another path. David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, is 30-ish, urbane, and witty. In no time, he has charmed the schoolgirl and her parents and suddenly a whole new world is opened up for Jenny. David takes her to classical music concerts, art auctions, fancy restaurants and nightclubs. He even convinces Jenny’s parents to let her go away with him for a weekend in Oxford and then later to Paris. Jenny is intoxicated by the glamorous lifestyle David and his friends lead, so much so that she’s willing to overlook some of its more questionable aspects.
This is a whole other kind of education she’s getting with David and she loves it. Her school friends are thrilled by it; even her parents are impressed by it. The only ones not endorsing the relationship are her English teacher and the headmistress at her school. And yes, there is a slight creepiness factor in a 30-ish man wooing and bedding a high school girl. But there are no on-screen sex scenes – that would have been really creepy – because it’s not about sex for Jenny. It’s about adventure and excitement.
An Education is a coming of age story well told and finely acted. There is major buzz about Carey Mulligan and with good reason. She is brilliant as Jenny. Peter Sarsgaard is also wonderful, as is the supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed Emma Thompson as the headmistress and Rosamund Pike as Helen, the vacuous girlfriend of David’s friend. Overall, I’m giving it an A.