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September 13, 2009

An Education at the Toronto International Film Festival

By Dennis Kucherawy - September 2009.

See other reviews by Dennis: Reel Injun, Creation and The Road

ENTERTAINMENT - With two awards from this year’s Sundance Film Festival and pre-Oscar buzz, An Education received its Canadian premiere last Thursday night to a rapturous reception from the Toronto International Film Festival opening night audience.

This is a charming, coming-of-age, romantic comedy/bittersweet drama that features a stellar, break-out performance from 22-year-old British newcomer Carey Mulligan. Some of England’s finest talent including Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Rosamund Pike and American actor Peter Sarsgaard are just a few of the wonderful performers who make this movie so enjoyable.

Set in 1961 in the London suburb of Twickenham, this movie tells the story of 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan), an intelligent, schoolgirl who loves to play the cello and all things French, including listening to Juliette Greco records. She dreams of attending Oxford University. A single child, she lives with her parents in a conservative household. One day, she meets David (Sarsgaard), a wealthy and handsome gentleman twice her age and begins to date him. He introduces her to an entirely new world of jazz nightclubs, concerts, fancy restaurants and art auctions in the company of his arty friends, the handsome Danny (Dominic Cooper) and the beautiful but dim-witted Helen (Pike).

David suggests that he and Jenny take an overnight trip to Oxford where, David claims, he studied with C.S. Lewis. Despite initial opposition from her stodgy father, Jack (Molina), and her cautious mother, Marjorie (Cara Seymour), Jenny leaves with David for their first trip together, thanks to David’s convincing charm. Soon, some of David’s questionable business dealings arise, but naive Jenny doesn’t let them cloud the great time she is having.

Back at school, her English teacher (Olivia Williams) becomes concerned with this romance and how it is affecting Jenny’s plummeting grades and behaviour. The school headmistress (Emma Thompson) also worries that this development will affect her chances to be accepted at Oxford.

As Jenny’s 17th birthday approaches, David proposes a trip to Paris where Jenny plans to celebrate by losing her virginity. Then, a sobering plot twist reveals who David really is, much to Jenny’s shock and heartbreaking disappointment. She learns there is more to life than the glamour, fun and high life to which David has exposed her.

Based on London Observer journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir, An Education is really the tale of two English eras meeting, said adapter and screenwriter Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and (About a Boy). Jenny’s life with her family in Twickenham represents post-war Britain with a generation, including Jenny, which still recalled food rationing from WW II. David represents the incoming revolution of the Swinging Sixties, Carnaby Street, the Beatles and the British invasion.

Mulligan’s performance is sweet and charming as she portrays Jenny’s progress from an insouciant naïf to a wiser but sadder young woman facing the future with a newly acquired touch of cynicism and heartbreak. She is in almost every scene, acting with an attractive aplomb. She radiates intelligence and a thirst for knowledge. Her wonderful buzz already has observers predicting an Oscar nomination for her.

Peter Sargaard’s David is a suave, funny charmer as he sweeps Jenny off her feet and also shows moments of poignancy as their romance grows. Other standouts include Alfred Molina, a simple and well-meaning man who provides welcome comic relief as he tries to do what he thinks is best for his only daughter. Also, Emma Thompson, in a minor role, delivers a firm and caring headmistress who is looking out for Jenny’s welfare. Olivia Stubbs as Jenny’s English teacher Miss Stubbs is especially moving in the final confrontation she has with her gifted student. She is an attractive woman imprisoned by her “schoolmarmish” attitude and spinster appearance with her large glasses.

Lone Scherfig fills the screen with an energy that brings the dawn of Britain’s Swinging Sixties to entertaining life. The Danish director elicits great performances from her talented cast that should give An Education a successful run at the box office.

The film opens Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, Friday October 9th which is appropriate. It’s a film that the entire family will enjoy.

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