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Coming-of-age drama set in 1960s London, adapted for the screen from the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber. Jenny is an intelligent young woman on the brink of her 17th birthday, living in the post-war, pre-Beatles London suburbs, who is destined for a promising if somewhat narrow future at Oxford University and beyond. Longing for romance and sophistication to inject some excitement into her humdrum schoolgirl existence, Jenny finds herself caught in a whirlwind romance with the mysterious and much older playboy David, which leaves her torn between studying for a place at Oxford, and the more exciting alternative offered to her by a charismatic older man.
For more about An Education and the An Education Blu-ray release, see An Education Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 18, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper
Director: Lone Scherfig
» See full cast & crew
An Education Blu-ray Review
An education in storytelling and filmmaking done right.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 18, 2010
Do you still feel like a schoolgirl?
An Education is a throwback movie that emphasizes -- and embraces -- substance over style, the picture never visually flashy but instead exceptionally constructed so as to build a story with characters that audiences will become lost in, concerned for, and empathetic towards. Indeed, An Education -- one of 2009's critical darlings and nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress for young Carey Mulligan (Public Enemies) -- manages to exceed even the loftiest of expectations thanks to a construction that boasts several shining performances on top of a simple yet elegant and moving tale of innocence caught in the midst of a glamorous world that's at once both everything it promises and nothing like it seems. Directed by Lone Scherfig and based on a screenplay penned by Nick Hornby for which the film received its third Academy Award nomination, An Education proves a dazzling movie watching experience; it's fluffy and light while also emotionally charged and thematically deep, the picture something of a rare effort that manages to in its 100-minute runtime toss a wide array of emotions at its audience without becoming jumbled or unclear in its purpose, structure, feel, or heart.
London, 1961. Jenny (Mulligan) is a book-smart 16-year-old girl who's been pushed to be the best she can be in the classroom by her loving but demanding father Jack (Alfred Molina, Identity) who hopes for his daughter an Oxford education and a promising and secure future. Among Jack's plans to ensure her acceptance to the prestigious university is to interest her in the cello, an endeavor that takes time away from her studies but is bound to impress the admissions office. One day after cello practice, Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaard, Jarhead), a man several years older than she, who offers her cello a ride home in his car to keep it safe from a pouring rain. The chance meeting proves amiable enough, and a second encounter yields a proposal for dinner and a concert, which Jenny giddily accepts. Jenny begins a full-fledged relationship with David, becoming involved in the alluring London nightlife with the promise of more as she becomes part of a group that includes David's friend and business partner Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike). As Jenny's grades -- and her future at Oxford -- begin to fade, her spirits soar as she experiences life as she only dreamed, and much to her surprise, her parents are far more accepting of David than she anticipated. Will Jenny find true happiness in the arms of an older gentleman, or will her sky-high new world come suddenly crashing in on her, leading her back to the doldrums of reality?
Viewers that may be turned off by An Education's seemingly inappropriate or sleazy subject material need not worry; this PG-13-rated film is only superficially about a relationship between a 16-17-year-old schoolgirl and an older gentleman. Below the surface but not by any means obscured or difficult to see lies the true crux the story, an examination of innocence tested in "the real world" that exists outside the confines of home and the structure of school. An Education does indeed construct a story and crafts its themes through a relationship that's taboo, but the film spends more time examining the effects of the relationship on an emotional level rather than a physical one; in fact, it's free of nudity and only implies the sexual aspects of the relationship without diving into any explicit detailing, visual, verbal, or otherwise. Material that borders on the offensive or the inappropriate is handled with the utmost care, and indeed, An Education enjoys something of a juxtaposition that sees the relationship through both a light, delicate, and gentle stage as well as through a rougher, more disturbing prism that examines the consequences of Jenny's actions, thought process, and a change in attitude through the film. An Education manages to capture a wealth of emotion in its story, from humor to passion, from love to hate, from excitement to sorrow, all of which play as more central to the thematic importance of the story, the age differences between Jenny and David certainly the driving force behind the story and that which defines how the story plays out and its themes interpreted, but there's far more here of value than a one- or two-sentence summation of the story might otherwise lead one to believe.
At its center, then, An Education is a film of one individual's evolution as she experiences a world far different from her own, one that had previously only existed in magazines, records, gossip, and Jenny's own mind. Her relationship with David shapes her existence in ways both physical and emotional as she traverses through a new and exciting world that's everything she could have ever hoped for and dreamed of, until several doses of reality scrape away at the glamour of the high life and reveal her new approach to and outlook on life to be only an illusion that is, perhaps, best left in magazines, records, gossip, and the mind, at least as they pertain to Jenny's own life path. Jenny comes to learn that life isn't about what's easily obtained but rather what's worked towards. Life, she learns, is what she makes of it, and is defined by the company she keeps and the actions both she and they take; it's the sum of the whole life experience -- before David and with David -- that shapes her approach to the relationship and its many revelations and subsequent effects on her life, not simply a piecemeal here-and-now snapshot that fades with time and, more relevant to An Education, exposure to the hazards that any lifestyle, particularly one she's not ready for, can bring. An Education is a masterful film at telling a simple story but also at packing it with thematic over- and undertones that dig deep into what life is all about. It's a film that looks at the consequences of one's own actions, of dreams, of missing the bigger picture for the sake of that one shining moment that promises the moon but truly offers only a ray of excitement that's blinding of the harmful consequences around it. Simply put, An Education is just the story of a girl learning extraordinary things about life and, more importantly, about herself during a whirlwind romance with a knight in shining armor that promises to deliver all she's ever dreamed of and the stark contrast between the allure of adulthood and the reality of young innocence.
An Education's wonderful story and dramatic elements come together thanks to both Director Lone Scherfig's fine yet unobtrusive work behind the camera and the collection of exceptional performances that bring the characters to vivid life and ultimately allow the audience to become completely immersed in the lives of several 1961 Londoners. Of the leads, it is perhaps Alfred Molina's effort as Jenny's overbearing and anti-semetic father Jack that serves as the glue to the entire story. Concerned for his daughter's well-being first and foremost, Jack pushes school on Jenny until he comes to know David as someone that he believes can secure a future for his daughter, a notion that turns his approach to his daughter on a dime and sees him suddenly stress the relationship over schooling; Molina brings a passion to the role that makes him a real father figure, protective but wanting only the best for his girl. He injects a bit of subtle humor into the part but ultimately turns in a rather moving effort that truly shines through in the film's final act. Olivia Williams (Rushmore) is also exceptional in a supporting part as Jenny's schoolteacher; taking on a homely look and concerned for her prize pupil's welfare outside the classroom and not just in it, Williams' character also plays central to the film's dramatic elements and resolution as something of a foil to Jenny's suddenly free-spirited approach to life, the actress turning in a convincing effort in every scene. Ultimately, however, it's the performances of Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard that make An Education a standout film in the acting department. Mulligan handles her challenging part -- that of a young and impressionable girl balancing her newfound freedom to live an adult-oriented life while still maintaining an innocence befitting her numerical age -- to Oscar-nomiated perfection. Meanwhile, Sarsgaard turns in one of the best efforts of his career as a smooth, confident, but mysterious older gentleman who becomes the object of affection of an underaged girl who sees in him a glamorous life that embodies all she's ever wanted but that seemed constantly out of reach; the actor handles the challenging part delicately but confidently, devouring the material and delivering a seamless effort in a film littered with memorable performances.
An Education Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony Pictures Classics' latest Blu-ray release, An Education, features a good-but-not- great 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer that delivers a quality film-like appearance but is nevertheless not quite as stunning as the best Blu-ray releases. Amidst what is sometimes incredibly strong detailing, An Education features some excessively soft shots with faces in particular occasionally appearing undefined and pasty. Generally, An Education delivers something of a cold, sterile image that's defined by shades of gray and blue, and while there's certainly a fair amount of color in the image, nothing stands out as abundantly bright and cheery. Texturing on building façades, pavement, school uniforms, and the like are nicely rendered with what is sometimes a "reach out and touch it" realism, but the image suffers a bit, in contrast, thanks to a somewhat flat appearance. Black levels, however, a rich and deep, but flesh tones can waver between anything from a bit on the pale side to showcasing a hint of red. The image is nothing if not consistent, remaining clear and stable throughout, the filmic quality reinforced by a moderately heavy layer of grain, but An Education just isn't the sort of film that's going to wow viewers, at least from a purely visual high definition perspective.
An Education Blu-ray, Audio Quality
An Education boasts a reserved but nevertheless good-in-context DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This is a fairly front-heavy presentation with only limited background ambience. Listeners won't often feel immersed into the various environments seen throughout the film, save for when there's sufficient sonic information to do so. A driving rainstorm early in the film delivers a quality presence across the front with a hint of back-channel support, but several booms of thunder nicely traverse the listening area for a full and engaging presentation that delivers everything but a dark cloud over the soundstage. Likewise, a night club scene later in the film positively places the listener in the midst of the crowd, with the deep, heavy, but clear accompanying percussion beats smoothly entering the listening area for a full and realistic effect. The track is exceptionally clear throughout, with nary a musical beat, sound effect, or syllable out of place. The film's light and sometimes playful score -- particularly as heard over the opening title sequence -- enjoys pinpoint clarity, and dialogue reproduction never misses a beat. Like the video presentation won't open any eyes, this soundtrack won't necessarily wow audiences in the same was as some big summer Action blockbusters might, but Sony has once again delivered a high quality listen that's perfectly suitable for the style of film it accompanies.
An Education Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
An Education enrolls on Blu-ray and earns but a fledgeling grade for its small collection of supplements. First up is an audio commentary track with Director Lone Scherfig and Actors Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. This is something of an affable track that focuses more on anecdotes and haphazard conversation than it does any sort of hardcore technical discussions. While there's still some brief discussions about thematic elements in the film, shooting techniques, filming locations, changes between script and final film, the performances of the cast, and other technical information, the track generally plays with a light and inconsequential tone that fans of the film will enjoy, but those looking for a 100-minute film school-type commentary will want to give this one a pass. The Making of 'An Education' (480p, 8:59) proves a competent but all-too-brief look at the film's story, dramatic elements and themes, and the performances of the cast. Walking the Red Carpet (1080i, 8:25) takes viewers to the film's premiere at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater and offers a collection of impromptu interview snippets with cast and crew. Also included is a collection of 11 deleted scenes (480p, 16:12); BD-Live functionality; the An Education theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:24); and additional 1080p trailers for Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Chloe, Coco Before Chanel, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, The Class, Married Life, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Michael Jackson's This is It.
An Education Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An Education is at once both a feel-good romance while building towards something of a more deep and relevant emotional undertone that comes to the surface in the final act and lends weight to a movie that's of several unique twists and traits but never plays as anything but coherent, entertaining, and most importantly, thematically satisfying. An aptly-titled picture if there ever was one, An Education examines a young girl's whirlwind romance and what it teaches her about love, lust, family, schooling, honesty, integrity, and indeed the world as she experiences life -- and all it has to offer -- in a way that educates her more than any textbook or lecture ever could. A standout of a story that's made all the better by a collection of exceptional performances from a group of actors that prove here one of the better ensemble casts in recent memory, An Education is a complete movie that may be of a somewhat difficult subject material but is nevertheless of high value from not only an entertainment perspective but also as a film that serves as something of an honest -- and at times both heartwarming and heartbreaking -- look at what the world has to offer to an impressionable young mind and the consequences of jumping into a lifestyle that's not made for an individual still trying to find their place in the world. Sony's Blu-ray release of one of the best films if 2009 is, as expected, a sparkling effort. This disc captures the film's deliberately cold visual style well enough, while the lossless mix delivers a clean and clear presentation of the picture's reserved but contextually effective soundtrack. Although the supplemental section could stand a few added features, This Blu-ray release of An Education nevertheless earns a glowingly high recommendation based on the strength of the film and its accompanying technical presentation.
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