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Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Education (***1/2)



Lovely, clever, charming film about a lovely, clever, charming English school girl, played by Carey Mulligan, meeting an affluent older playboy, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who broadens her horizons in ways she only dreamed of.  An Education is a persuasive time machine, whisking the audience to London, Oxford, and Paris circa 1961, the glamorous dawn of the jet age in Europe. On the outset, An Education seems to be a forbidden romance between Mulligan and Sarsgaard but it's no such thing. Indeed, beyond infatuation and sexual desire on Sarsgaard's part, there's hardly a love story between the two leads, with Mulligan regarding Sarsgaard more as a practical choice and gateway to a more rewarding, glamorous life. The true romance of An Education is between Mulligan and the potential of a whole world of possibilities in life that bloom for her. An Education is effusive with the issues of status and class, as well as the choices and disappointments Mulligan faces as a girl growing up in post-war England. It's difficult to blame Mulligan's infatuation with the jet-set lifestyle of posh restaurants, jazz clubs, and jaunts to Paris seductively offered by Sarsgaard when it all seems to come so easily, compared to how dreadfully dull matriculating at Oxford and studying English seems by comparison. That Sarsgaard he isn't quite all he seems to be is obvious from the start. Saarsgard comes off as such a forked-tongued snake oil salesman that it's no surprise when he turns out to be far less than ideal.  The rather abrupt way the final few minutes of An Education wraps up the problems Mulligan faces is the film's only failing. The performances are terrific; the radiant, 25 year old Mulligan deserves her Best Actress Oscar nomination. Mulligan is ably supported by Olivia Williams as her English instructor, Emma Thompson as the headmistress of her school, and Alfred Molina as her stern but doting father who finds himself as charmed as his daughter is by Sarsgaard's savoir-faire.