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An Education (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/30/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted 3/25/2010

The pie in American Pie. The hair gel in There's Something About Mary. The éclairs in Van Wilder. These are all household items that, thanks to the listed movies, you will never at the same way again. Where they were once innocent and innocuous, these objects are now tainted. Well, get ready to add the banana to that list, compliment of An Education. So, you didn’t expect anything like that from an Academy Award nominated British movie. Yeah, me neither.

An Education is set in a small British town in 1961. 16-year old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a serious student who’s goal is to attend Oxford. She has all of the answers in class and she diligently practices her cello. Her parents, Jack (Alfred Molina) and Marjorie (Cara Seymour), are serious as well, and only expect the best from Jenny. While walking home in the rain, Jenny is offered a ride by David (Peter Sarsgaard), a thirty-something man in a fancy car. They chat and find that they have similar interests. Jenny is surprised when she runs into David again and he offers to take her to a concert. Jenny’s parents aren’t only a bit hesitant about this. Soon, David is taking Jenny to parties and on trips, along with his close friends, Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike). Jenny has the time of her life, doing the kind of things that she’d always dreamed of doing. At the same time, she is growing even closer to David. However, her studies are suffering. Will Jenny throw away her promising future for this man?

The above synopsis may sound fairly simplistic and I imagine, when viewed on-paper, the story sounds somewhat pedestrian -- frustrated teenager girl becomes smitten with worldly older man. We've seen that story before. I'm sure that it's playing on LifeTime as we speak.

But, there's a lot more happening in An Education. The film is based on the real-life memoir of Lynn Barber, and the screenplay was written by Nick Hornby. Yes, that Nick Hornby, the writer behind High Fidelity and About a Boy. The film was directed by Danish director Lone Scherfig. These artists have brought a very clever outlook to An Education, which is what makes the film succeed. Again, the story takes place in the early sixties, and the filmmakers know that we are watching it in the 21st century. What do I mean by that? To put it mildly, times have changed, and watching the attitudes and decisions that the characters display is quite shocking when watching the movie from a modern perspective.

We are never told exactly how old David is, but again, he's got to be in his early 30s at least. But, Jenny's parents show little hesitation in letting her go out with him. Jenny and David concoct lies, some elaborate and some small, in order to gain her parent's trust, and they never question him. Is this what life was really like then? We keep waiting for someone, anyone to lean in and say, "Dude, you're twice her age." But, no one does. Jenny's parents are charmed by David, her classmates are jealous of her adventures, and Danny & Helen never comment on the age discrepancy.

As the film progresses, we see Jenny becoming more and more enamored with David, and this creates a creepy fascination with the viewer. On the one hand, we understand why she feels this way. Jenny is the quintessential "mature beyond her years" character, and David is showing her the kind of life of which she's only dreamed. But, we the audience, can also see the reality -- that her grades are slipping and that she probably shouldn't be with David. The beauty of Hornby and Scherfig's approach to the material is that everything is played straight. The movie is never over-the-top or melodramatic. So, as the characters are very non-chalant about the banana scene, the audience is in their seats cringing.

The movie also gets a huge boost from its cast. Carey Mulligan is in never every scene of the film (She "careys" the movie. Ha!), and is very good. Note how her look and demeanor changes as she gets closer to David. Sarsgaard, who often looks half-asleep in movies, is notably good here. Again, he doesn't play David as a creep and that makes him even creepier.

An Education is the movie that Mona Lisa Smile wanted to be. It shows an unblinking look at how society's attitudes towards women have changed over the years, and it's far and away a better movie. Ask anyone who knows me, An Education is not my kind of movie, but a great movie is a great movie. Of all of the Best Picture nominees from 2009 which I've seen thus far, this is easily the best.

An Education...that banana...on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very natural and the image is never too dark or bright. The picture is a tad soft at times and this has an effect on the level of detail. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we don't get a lot of dynamic effects here, but the music never overpowers the voices. The music does provide some surround sound, as do crowd noises. Stereo effects are used at times to illustrate off-screen action.

The An Education DVD contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Lone Scherfig and Actors Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. "The Making of An Education" (9 minutes) is a simple, but detailed look at the film's production. There are comments from the actor and filmmakers, who discuss the cast, characters, story, and working with Scherfig. "Walking the Red Carpet" (8 minutes) has footage from the film's premiere in Hollywood, along with comments from those involved. The DVD has eleven DELETED SCENES which run about 16 minutes. These scenes give us some more examples of David's behavior and we see that some very interesting moments were removed from the third act. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long