Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Education - opening a season of Sixties Films?

How much do trailers tell you about the theatre you’re in? When I saw District 9 a few months back, the trailers were full of action, movement, violence, and I couldn’t tell you what movies were being advertised. I doubt I saw any of them. Saturday afternoon at the Kew Gardens Cinema on Lefferts Boulevard, my favorite Queens movie house, I saw the following four trailers:

  1. The Single Man. Colin Firth. 'Nuf said. And Julianne Moore. 1960s England. Glamorous, artificial. Before I even saw that it was based on a Christopher Isherwood story, I knew what it was about. And I’m dying to see it.
  2. Broken Embraces looks complicated, emotional, lifelike, fascinating. Before that moment when the luminous Penelope Cruz appeared on the screen, the name Amodovar sparked my interest. Her presence sets it on stunning. I’m dying to see this film too.
  3. The Young Victoria. I like costume dramas well enough but not especially. Part of this advertisement was that Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter of Gosford Park (one of my top ten for sheer pleasure ever), wrote this film. Cast looks fabulous, and Victoria’s (that’s Queen Victoria to you) history is interesting, so this trailer actually made me want to see this one.
  4. Me and Orson Welles. May be interesting. May not. The fellow playing Orson appears like Orson. Plotwise it seems fluffy; but tough to tell.

The trailers executed their functions well. I enjoyed all of them, so I ought to have a good winter of weekend films on Lefferts Boulevard.

I wasn't at the movies to watch the trailers, but to see An Education. I’ll see anything with Carey Mulligan. I have seen her Nina on stage, her Sally Sparrow on “Dr. Who” (don’t laugh, “Blink” is an excellent episode), and it was she that first caught my eye in a review of this film when it opened at the Toronto Film Festival back in mid September. My how time does fly. Was it fun? That’s a subject for another blog.

An Education
Carey Mulligan plays 16-year-old Jenny. Alfred Molina is marvelous, adding a depth to the traditional father figure at a turning point in social history; Cara Seymour plays her mother, who handles, understands, and loves her husband, and quietly encourages her daughter to a different sort of life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before, and she was marvelous. Emma Thompson is perfect (I recall the NYT review saying her work here was practice for her inevitable performance as Margaret Thatcher, and it was right on the nose), and Olivia Williams did the best work I’ve seen her do in a role that could have been a stereotypical understanding high school teacher. Not high school -- whatever the Brits call 10th grade. Dominic Cooper, whom I last saw as a schoolboy in History Boys, is all grown up here, classy and slimy at the same time. As he was in History Boys. Helen (sometimes referred to as “Aunt Helen”) was lived, not played, so perfect was she, by Rosamund Pike. And of course, Peter Sarsgaard as Jenny’s David. Charming, sweet, and sleazy.

This film takes place in 1961-2. Primary question for me is: Is this a story? A complete story, with a beginning, middle and end. It has fabulous characters, scintillating scenes, beautiful cinematography by John de Borman. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is sharp and soft, beguiling and seductive. And Lone Sherfig’s direction was so good I didn’t even notice; quite seamless (until the end). The film I saw was a landscape of a time with detailed and interactive portraits: of young girls who desperately desire the sophistication of Paris; of a loving and not at all dumb mother who, 15 years later, would be living an entirely different life, even if with the same husband; a loving and stifled father, as easily seduced as his daughter; two con men with different styles and morals; an extremely conservative principled principal; and a literature teacher willing to take an extra step. These are marvelous portraits, brilliant and enticing. They go a long way to making this film seem like a story.

Bored, stifled, clever Jenny wants her Life to begin. She wants her Life to be in France, she wants to be sophisticated, she wants to listen to music, but not the music her father listens to. Sound like 1961? Jenny does well in school (except for Latin), she plays cello in a small school orchestra, and a lovely young boy is politely besotted with her. While waiting for a bus in an incredible deluge, along comes a charming man in a fabulous little car to give Jenny and her cello a lift. The young man is amusing, he draws her out, he doesn’t seem to be in the slightest bit predatory. When David steps into Jenny’s life a second time, I groaned. Jenny is swept up in a musical romance, and joins in with David’s schemes to get her parents to allow her to go out with this blatantly older man.

David’s cohorts are Helen and Danny. The first time we see Jenny with them is just shocking. They are sophisticates, she is a child. But then Helen helps to transform her into a young woman – on the outside at least.

Rosamund Pike’s Helen is beautiful in face, figure, and fashion sense, charming, dense, insensitive with no such intent. She is so incredibly charming in her stupidity that when Jenny gets a “B” in her Latin course, Helen comforts her by saying that she’d read that within 50 years, no one will be speaking Latin, “not even the Latins.” How sweet is that.

Danny (Dominic Cooper) is brusque yet closer to honest than Peter Sarsgaard’s David. Personally I generally find Peter Sarsgaard rather sleazy, so unfortunately his David did not surprise me.

Jenny’s home is dull and colorless, despite her mother’s warmth. Her father is not a bad guy, but he’s essentially insulting. Mind you, in his time his attitude was the norm. As far as Molina’s “Jack” is concerned, all his daughter can hope for is his wife’s life, but she’d best get her A levels so she can go to Oxford. There she’ll become qualified to teach (Olivia Williams’ scenes as the lit teacher who probably had the same dreams as Jenny are exquisitely painful), but more qualified to meet someone appropriate to marry. In the years following these happenings, women would break out of these absurd societal shackles, but Jenny doesn’t know that yet. Her home is stifling despite the love in it, her French records are shouted down, and the cello that brings her to David’s attention is a tool to her father, not an instrument. The excitement and color of evenings out with David and his friends are a great contrast to Jenny’s home life, and she falls into that lush life like a Parisian Apache dancer. We see David’s charm, we understand. But please, he’s a sleaze and she’s jailbait. How this affair plays out is fated from the start.

An Education is based on a memoir, not a story. This shows at the ending, which I found rather disappointing. Too much or too little, but not quite what a story needs. Realistic as a memoir would be, and yet not dramatic and crushed into a few scenes with snow and spring buds to alert us to time going by. Denouement can feel awfully long.

This film is beautiful. The acting is superb. The cinematography of gray, rainy London is in stark contrast to glorious sunny Paris. It’s all gorgeous, evocative. Even the tea and biscuits that deservedly had their own shot near the end were dull, almost monochromatic. The scenes with the foursome – Jenny and David, Helen and Danny – are sharper and brighter and louder than the rest of Jenny’s life. They live the lush life. For a while Jenny lives it with them, at a price.

See this movie. I want to talk about the ending. Oh, and the score is excellent. A little classical, a little jazz, a little rock’n’roll. Just what a 1962 story needs.

~ Molly Matera signing off -- thanks for stopping by.

No comments:

Post a Comment