Sunday, January 31, 2010

"An Education" - not really!

The date is 1961 and somewhere in Britain, living in extremely boring surrounds and going to school and wanting to get to Oxford, is Jenny (Carey Mulligan). Jenny does things like plays the cello; has friends with whom she smokes; and tolerates her extremely under-exposed parents. There is a young boy who is interested in her and he is duly invited around for an excruciating tea with the parents.

Then, suddenly, an older man David, (Peter Sarsgaard)enters her life. He drives a snazzy car; he flashes his wealth and he. He has wit, experience and good looks. Of course, she is going to fall for him. Fact is, he is a bit shady, but who is going to notice, with charm like his?

That, of course, is the point. People don’t notice. The period and the place is quaint and naive, from our vantage point. Based on journalist Lynne Barber’s memoir, this movie, feels more like a stage play. But maybe I missed the point. Maybe the point was that it should feel antiquated and stilted, to take one back into that particular period. If so, it succeeded. If not, it was fairly tedious.

Not that there was nothing to hold one’s interest. The period was captured perfectly. The acting was good – I wouldn’t call it superb. The story was somewhat predictable. But there were other vignettes which caught my attention. For instance, I was fairly surprised that in what looked like a straight up and down British family, that smoking was not un-tolerated. So as a 16 year old, it was not outside the bounds of acceptability that she could smoke fairly publicly.

Secondly, her parents wanted her to go to Oxford. But the point about going to Oxford, was so that she could meet someone suitable. Education was not really the issue, from her father’s point of view (her mother just stood around looking worried and arching her eyebrows, most of the time).

But the real shocker, to me, was that at the age of 16, it seemed perfectly in order that she should be contemplating marriage! (Today, there would be questions of child molestation!). But then I remembered that awful musical called “The Sound of Music”, from around the same era, with the “You are sixteen, going on seventeen” song, and it just seems as though our ideas around marriageable age have lengthened rather dramatically, without me really noticing!

It is nominated for a British Academy Awards for just about everything there is. It has Emma Thompson playing a small part as the School headmistress, who, when told that the older boyfriend is a Jew, purses her lips and says to Jenny “The Jews killed our Lord”. It is a “good” movie. But it is very unsatisfying.

Besides being a period piece, the plot is neither really interesting, nor novel, nor worth making a movie about. With that as a basis, you see where I am going? If you like the 1960’s, or lived through the 1960’s, or want to see what the 1960’s looked like, then go and see it. If not, stay at home.

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