Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Play with Matches and You Might Get Learned

Moments just prior fascinate me, mostly because we can never know they are what they are till what happens happens. They are always ex post facto, receding in the rear view mirrors of our lives, open to interpretation, to the outline finding details as needs be. That's just one of the fascinations of An Education, which captures a slice of England 1961 before The Sixties--now a construct, not just a decade!--happened. More importantly for our 16-year-old heroine Jenny, the Second Wave of Feminism had just started to stir off the cultural shore, so she's left to bob in mighty calm and boring seas for the meantime, a calmed pool of stratified bourgeois striving, with hopes of going to Oxford to read English as her way out (to what, exactly, becomes the question). It's certainly not to the world about which she dreams listening to Juliette Greco records, as the film lovingly, languorously captures her in one scene, rapturously listening on her bed--where better for such a wealth of feeling she can only feel she should feel.

Till David shows up. He's thirtyish, dandyish, cleverish--so full of "ish"es any young woman should probably know enough to run the other way. But he's got charm, so much so he can even convince Jenny's parents to let him take her to a concert (with a harp!) and a post-show supper. It's here that Jenny might as well admit she has a feeling she's not in Kansas anymore (or whatever the English Kansas is), for the film practically shifts from black and white to color--they go to a posh nightclub where a chanteuse holds sway and the whole room seems slinky jazz. Carey Mulligan is wonderful in scenes like these, so suddenly awake, so stirred, she practically pops off the screen. Director Lone Scherfig completely presents this world to us, and there's no question why it's so seductive to Jenny--we damn well want to live in it too (heck, that's one reason we go to movies after all).

I don't want to give away the movie, just tell you to see it, to feel the ache of a smart girl in a time when smart girls didn't have enough to aspire to and therefore men, caddish, men. (Perhaps this is an old story.) True, it ends too quickly and neatly, but it pulls off not just a music montage but one set in Paris with aplomb (indeed, it's so perfect you realize it can't be real), but it features secondary characters you want to know more, like Cara Seymour as Jenny's mom, who knows too well her daughter's pains (watch her react when Paris plans almost include her), like Rosamund Pike as the ditsy Helen who is smarter than she seems (one reviewer's comparison to Judy Holliday is spot on). And then there's Peter Sarsgaard's David--perhaps even that he's a Yank impersonating a Brit for the film should be a hint. But never has a rogue seemed so enchanting. He plays David as a man who has even fooled himself, at least at times, and when those crinkly lines form around his eyes when he smiles, he's hard to resist.

As a postscript, here's a sidenote of 20/20 hindsight: where has Floyd Cramer been all my life? The film uses his delightful confection "On the Rebound" for its title sequence, and talk about charmingly seductive....

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Anonymous Joey said...

If you liked Floyd Cramer's "On The Rebound", check out his grandson, Jason Coleman, at www.jasoncolemanmusic.com.

7:37 PM  

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