I love Audrey Hepburn. Breakfast at Tiffany’s revealed her spunk and fashion, Sabrina and My Fair Lady revealed her poise and grace, and Roman Holiday (my favorite) revealed her charm and allure. In the Oscar-nominated An Education, relative newcomer Carey Mulligan encompasses all of the mentioned Hepburn qualities in a way that feels like the classic actress is being brought back to life right on the screen. She’s going to be a star, and someone to keep on the to-watch list.
An Education is a coming-of-age film about 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan), a bright young woman in 1960s England. Her parents are strict but naive, always going on about her education in school and her future at Oxford. They push her constantly to achieve. Then Jenny happens to meet David (Peter Sarsgaard) while walking home in the rain carrying her cello. David offers her a ride in his elegant sports car. She agrees. They engage in witty small talk and part ways with smiles lighting their faces. They happen to see each other again. David is clearly interested in Jenny, and Jenny is interested in the lifestyle David leads. Fine music, high-end restaurants, elegant clothes, fast cars, spontaneous jaunts to Paris. It’s all very romantic. The catch: David is in his mid-30s.
You can see where this is going. But An Education manages to walk the fine line between overt romance and downright creepiness; we’re uncomfortable with Jenny and David’s relationship, and we’re sure it can’t end well, but there is still something alluring to it all. Thatsomething is Mulligan as Jenny, creating a complex and wondrous character that draws us in, giving the singular performance of the past year. We cheer for her when she triumphs and weep when she falls. Mulligan portrays Jenny with an effervescence that is contagious–she is smart, witty, a bit naive, but elegant beyond her years. She may be using David in order to gain a myriad of experiences her stifling parents won’t allow, but what teenager hasn’t sought freedom from their parents in rebellious ways? Her parents naively also fall right into David’s hands, charmed by his social standing and excited that Jenny has found such a catch. The guy is good.
While An Education is set in 1960s, it reminds me that young people are young people. (It’s a beautiful period piece, by the way. The elegant fashion of early ’60s London draws comparisons to Mad Men.) Jenny rebels against her parents in a most unconventional way–she pursues fashion, the arts, and an elegant social class. It isn’t sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but the elements are still there. There are numerous adults who offer her their own version of wisdom and advice, but ultimately Jenny must discern the truth from the lies about what makes a meaningful life. It’s a youth ministry movie, a movie about a young person finding themselves in the world.
It’s also a subtle comparison between the world of academics and the world of experience. There are people who have spent years of their lives giving up time and money and relationships for their bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. There are also those who have traveled all around the world, met tons of interesting people, eaten exotic food, seen beautiful places, but still don’t have a college degree. Which is more enriching, more fulfilling, more life-preparing? In ministry, is a theological education or years of experience in a church more valuable? Jenny finds herself caught between these two educational worlds, knowing that Oxford would become her intellect, but afraid of becoming like her fuddy-duddy parents and missing out on the beauty of culture.
A bright young woman with stifling parents pursuing the finer aspects of the culture as the uncertain-yet-hopeful future opens before her. Sounds a little like Roman Holiday.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1174732/