An Education would be passable enough, were it not for the utterly strained narrative drum it beats again and again throughout. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 16-year-old living in London. She dreams of attending Oxford. Or, at least, her father (Alfred Molina) does. One afternoon, her poor, closeted-in life sees a bit of light: a 30’s-something man (Peter Sarsgaard) offers her a chance to get out of dreary London and see the world. Concerts, parties, Paris and more. Naturally, however, this new life isn’t as wonderful as it seems. Sarsgaard is actually a liberal, free-thinking thief, nabbing valuable works of art from little old ladies who don’t know the difference. Jenny frowns, but carries on, hoping she, too, may be able to be more like her new friends. Then, the inevitable steps follow: she decides to end her pursuits of Oxford and get married, only to discover Sarsgaard has a secret past she’s been unaware of. The women of her all-girls school get to shout “we told you so,” and Jenny realizes, rather quickly, that it is, indeed, best to stay in school. The end. Aside from the gorgeous photography and solid acting, An Education is but a heavy-handed exploit of one girl’s growth as a woman. Thus, the literal title means not only an academic education, but life, as well. Once Jenny becomes educated in the harshness of love and abandoning the norm, she’s scared back into pursuing the very existence her parents desired for her, only with, perhaps, a bit more perception. Were Lone Scherfig’s film a bit more contemplative about Jenny’s choices, An Education could have been, at most, somewhat insightful. But, because it views institutionalized education as an absolute good, nothing ever materializes to question a career path now assumed by nearly every young person who desires success.
** out of ****