An education from An Education

Yesterday was the first day of 2010 that I could really believe spring would come once again.  While there was this,

there was also this,


Spring may come afterall!  It was just a sunny, beautiful day and we left the windows open to air out the condo while we walked downtown to the Orpheum to finally see An Education.  I admit that I was not totally in love with the idea of seeing this movie.  I had believed (mistakenly) that it was going to be yet another tale about an older man obsessed with his Lolita and that the movie would feel tired and exploitative.  I could not have been more wrong.  First, a word on the Orpheum.  It is simply the most fun place to see a movie in Madison.  It is old, beautiful and you can sit in the balcony.  You can have a drink during the movie and get real butter on your popcorn.  While it lacks the amenities of Sundance (say, drink holders for one), it makes up for it in charm.  Frankly, unless there is something that I really want to see on the Imax at Star Cinemas, I almost never venture out of the Sundance-Orpheum world.  The problem with the theater?  Well, there are several.  First of all, it’s FREEZING in there.  I don’t think anyone took off their coats.  Second, the film reel started and stopped several times before we finally got a real go with sound and all.  Third, it went out of focus a couple of times during the middle of the movie.  Despite all that, I still love that theater.

Now, onto the star attraction.  An Education is, without a doubt, the best movie I have seen this year.  Maybe even the past few years.  It is a quietly perfect coming-of-age tale set in 1961 England.  Jenny is a 16-year-old girl who wants to lose her virginity on her 17th birthday, loves all things French, plays the cello and has her eyes set on Oxford.  She meets David who is much older, worldly and a smooth, smooth talker.  He introduces her to his world, which is the world she has studied but never seen.  This all may sound trite, but it is so far from it.  This is the first movie I can think of that deals honestly with a young girl’s sexuality and hopes and dreams.  Jenny thinks she knows more than she does.  She thinks she is more clever than her parents, and maybe she is, but they still have a thing or two to teach her.  She thinks David is the world, but he’s not.  He’s just a man who has more faults than most and who loves to see himself through his ingenue’s eyes.  She thinks her teachers are tired and boring and have given up on life, but finds herself wrong again.  They teach because of girls like her, who have the whole world in front of them and talents to offer us all. 

I think what I found most heartbreaking and lovely about an An Education, if I had to pick one thing, would be Jenny’s relationship with her father.  He believes so strongly in Jenny getting an education, even though he himself barely understands what that means.  He insists she play the cello, but not that she practice and certainly not that she expose herself to concerts and culture.  His character is summed up in his hilarious line to Jenny, when she tells him her friend Graham may become a famous author one day, “Being a famous author is not the same as knowing one.”  Jenny’s dad prefers to know what one “should” be but not to actually be that.  But he is more than just the comic figure in the story.  He is her father and he loves her and delights in her successes and blames himself for her biggest mistake.  He believes in her and he forgives her her lies and errors in judgment.  The scene in which he brings her tea and biscuits will probably forever be with me. 

This story is a memoir, which explains, I suppose, why it feels so very real and true.  The ditzy blonde may have been a bit of a stretch (can anyone be that clueless?), but she was a decent foil and quite sweet and funny.  Really funny, actually. 

I know the movie has no chance of winning tonight, and in a year when there are 10 nominees it’s not really an honor to be nominated, but I am grateful for its existence and already want to see it again.  Oh!  And Carey Mulligan’s performance?  Well, I don’t think it would have been the same film with anyone else.  She was simply divine.  She was the perfect, perfect embodiment of Jenny.  I am eager to see her in future roles, but I suspect I will never love her more than I do as Jenny.

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7 Responses to “An education from An Education”


  1. 1 gwendolyngarden March 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I can’t wait to see this movie on Netflix- I love Carey Mulligan, she was in two of my favorite BBC roles: the daughter in “The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard” and the heroine of the scariest Dr. Who show I’ve ever seen. I’m glad you liked it- I can’t wait! Also- I LOVED Sandra B’s gown. loved it. And I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Turquoise earrings in the clip about Crazy Heart. They are nice- maybe not Google-search-worthy, but still nice.

  2. 2 Keyes March 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Oh I miss Madison! (and especially the Orpheum).

    Checking where I can An Education immediately–what a beautifully thoughtful review.

  3. 3 Keyes March 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Where I can SEE An Education.

    And while I’m correcting myself–I miss Madison (especially KATE and the Orpheum).

  4. 4 Kristin March 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    An Education is on DVD 3/30 and I can not wait. Not only does it look just fabulous, but Peter Saarsgard (sp?) is one of my number one Hollywood crushes. Even with that buzz cut he was sporting last night.

    I was generally happy with the Oscars last night. Thank the lords above for the Hurt Locker wins. I don’t think I could have kept anything down if I had to listen to James Cameron accept that award. Besides the fact that Hurt Locker was wonderful, riveting, amazing.

    Mo’nique’s performance in Precious (BOTNPBS) was great, but I need her to stop talking like that. I just do. Just stop. Let Gabby do the talking as she is simply full of light and life. Mo’nique – you’re a downer. Blah.

  5. 5 gracieandkate March 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    OMG. BOTNPBS is so hilarious. Do you think that was in the contract giving the movie rights from the book? It must be because there can be no other rational explanation for that nonsense of a title. Hurt Locker left too soon for me to see it, but Terry told me it’s been on DVD since Feb so I have no excuse. When I woke up this morning, my first thought was, “There is a God. Avatar did not win best picture.” I really didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t Avatar. Not that I’ve seen it (I know, I know). I wouldn’t have minded, really, if Cameron had won, as long as Avatar didn’t. I know I’m a bad person for this, but those creatures are BLUE. I can’t watch that.

    And I know I’m repeating myself here, but I am so in love with An Education. See it, see it, see it — and then tell me what you think. Saarsgard’s accent was top-notch, I thought. In fact, I kept thinking, “He’s not really Brittish, is he? Or maybe he is. Hmm.” Nope, he’s not.

    And Keyes, Madison misses you. Tons and tons.

  6. 6 Raoser March 8, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    BOTNPBS is hysterical- agreed.

    I am so glad that Avatar didn’t win as well! Ugh, I mean, sure technologically it was interesting, but best picture? Come on. I was pretty thrilled with Ms. Bigelow’s win. She was so cute and shaky and excited, and though I have yet to see it, it looks pretty great. It also looks very intense and that scares me a little.

    I too love Peter Saarsgard. I find to be him so talented, and fascinating. And that Carey Mulligan is so freakin’ adorable with her little pixie face and dimples, I can’t wait. But I will. I will because lately I’m very lazy and busy at the same time and all I want to do is hunker down on the sofa with food and the tv. It’s true. I’m very very lame. I have no excuse but pure laziness.

    I miss the Orpheum too, so much. I need to come home soon. Really, really soon. What are you doing tomorrow? Drinks?

    Oh Mo’nique. Mo’nique, Mo’nique, Mo’nique. Yeah, her speeches can be a bit much. Although, I thought last night’s was relatively simple compared to some of the other heavy-handed ones she’s given. And while it was too bad not to be able to see Gabby rock the mike, I thought Sandra’s speech was so classy and adorable and perfect.

    Most of all I was excited to see an ethnic person in almost every category and a female director win. That’s the stuff that brings tears to my eyes. Silly but true.

  7. 7 Mary March 12, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I am so happy you loved An Education. Severa and I saw it about a month ago. We both thought it was fabulous. And I really want to see it agai. Kate, that was a wonderful review.

    Have not been to the Orpheum in years for a movie. But noe I really want to see one there. Perhaps when the weather is warmer….freezing is not the least bit appealing.


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