Learning can be fun

A spiritual awakening on a trip through the good life

Class is in session

Class is in session

An Education
Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Saarsgard and Alfred Molina. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

In the ennui of post-WWII London (just before it starts to swing in 1961), prep-school darling Jenny (a wonderfully expressive Carey Mulligan) struggles with the pursuit of her ideals and the boring demands of maintaining grades to grant her father’s wish that she access Oxford in order to qualify for an “MRS degree.” On the brink of 17, she’s also holding on to her virginity for the right one. Not that there’s been any real temptation. The only applicant is a gawky, stuttering (but well-meaning) local lad.

All that changes when a man twice her age (Peter Saarsgard) rolls up in a flashy sports car and offers her an escape from not only a rain-sodden curb, but also from the tedious routine of her middle-class environs. Although schooled against accepting candy from strangers, Jenny accepts the ride and is swept into an Audrey Hepburn world of fancy dress recitals, jazz clubs and even a trip to exotic Paris. Of course, a wolf in any drag is still a wolf, as Jenny ultimately finds.

Based on the memoirs of British writer Lynn Barber and adapted to the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), An Education is a slight but breezy take on the dusty ol’ coming-of-age story. There’s really nothing new on display here, and when the film starts to drift into interesting territory it quickly steers back into the conventional narrative of a young girl getting her Sense and Sensibility on. As such, An Education serves as a life-support system for some nicely turned performances.

Director Lone Scherfig nurtures the actors along with an easy-going tempo that—while going along with the protagonist’s wide-eyed wonder at the world by which she is being tempted—still maintains an air of disquiet as to the price that will be demanded for this education.

Saarsgard manages the difficult feat of balancing his character’s sliminess with charm as the older man, almost a Swinging Sixties Brit version of Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused. Scherfig obviously sees a l’il bit of Hepburn in Mulligan, especially during the obligatory montage set in Paris. Also turning in a clever performance (as Jenny’s father) is Alfred Molina, who deftly weaves the brusqueness of a man afraid that his daughter will be swallowed by an unforgiving life with a certain amount of regret.

The movie really doesn’t hit its stride until the third act when all the drama is revealed and quickly resolved … although the resolution seems a touch too pat and conventional for the dreams and actions of Jenny.