An Education
I’ve arranged you all by height for my own amusement.

Golden Mug

Actress (Carey Mulligan)
Adapted Screenplay (Nick Hornby (screenplay), Lynn Barber (memoir))
Song (“Smoke WIthout Fire” by Duffy)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/16/2009
Director: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson

Growing up, you must learn from two diverse sets of knowledge bases: book smarts and street smarts. “An Education” concerns itself with this notion, in a coming of age tale revolving around a young girl in 1960s London on track to attend Oxford who is swept off her feet by a much older, charming playboy.

Normally, these tales are a dime a dozen but director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby do a nice job of balancing the ensemble’s roles in a such a way as to make their contributions to the main character’s development vital and apparent. Often, it’s up to only the lead actors to make this genre film succeed but it’s truly a group effort here.

That’s not to say the star of the film, Carey Mulligan, doesn’t shine brightly. No, this is clearly her coming out party as far as acting goes and expect to see her name on a number of best of lists this awards season. The character must navigate her way from naive schoolgirl to self-perceived actualization and then see that much of what she thought was growing up is only the start of adult life. Mulligan does so beautifully, building her character’s confidence and swagger as the relationship with Peter Sarsgaard blooms and deflating those airs when certain truths are revealed.

To that end, Sarsgaard was well cast for this role. There’s something about him that creates a sense of distrust and unease in each of his characters. This shadiness lent itself well to this con artist role and exhibited itself in nearly every interaction, from those with Mulligan, to her parents to the revelations about him that unfold throughout the film.

Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour do a good job of playing Mulligan’s parents, altering their approach to her dependent on the situation, rather than being one note and fixed throughout. Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike, as Sarsgaard’s friends, also manage to create developed characters where typical stereotypes probably first dwelt.

To that end, praise must certainly go to Hornby’s script. While the structure of the story is that of a generic coming of age tale, he managed to create layers to each character and dialogue to match. Each group of people in Mulligan’s life leaves an indelible mark on her development. This is even true of the educators at her prep school, played nicely by Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson. Normally these roles are throwaways and hardly worth mentioning but Hornby and the actors managed to make them relevant.

A 4 out of 5, “An Education” is a tale that audiences are well familiar with but done in such a way as to make it fresh. This is a good one to see if you’re like me and enjoy having seen all the films that get nominated by the various awards organizations. Of course, even without that touch of OCD, this is still a good one to watch – if only to see Mulligan’s performance or to appreciate Hornby’s well-written script.