Saturday, October 10, 2009

Have You Had An Education ?

You'll remember that when I first saw An Education, I could basically utter multi-syllabic words. Carey Mulligan is it. So for this week's column at Towleroad I reviewed the Lone Scherfig delight and it went something like this.
Have you ever seen a star being born? It’s a particularly thrilling film experience and contrary to popular conceptions of celebrity – from Warhol’s 15 minutes meme to the enduring reality TV craze -- true star breakthroughs don’t happen every year. They’re rare like comets or maybe even eclipses. You have a chance to see one this month as An Education begins its platforming release and Carey Mulligan deservedly rises to the top of Hollywood’s “must cast” list. In the fall’s first obvious Oscar contender (expect a Best Picture nod) Mulligan plays Jenny, a 16 year old girl who is wise beyond her years… though not quite as wise as she thinks she is.

Jenny takes up with a much older man David (Peter Sarsgaard) who gives her, you guessed it, an education… but not only a sexual one. Then there’s the not so small matter of Jenny’s schooling...

You can read the rest for more huzzahs for Mulligan and a nod to the generally terrif cast. It's not that the film is perfect, mind. Far from it. I get where some of its less vituperative naysayers are coming from. It's just the kind of film that's hard to bitch about. Too loveable, see.

But even one of my own friends is a non-believer.

the divine Emma Thompson has had it with this girl-not-yet-a-woman

Got this text from txt critic last night which says

It's kind of inexplicable to me how much people have been fliping their shit over An Education (and Carey Mulligan for that matter). It's a nice, throwback-y familiar coming-of-age movie that grandmothers will love. The movie's pleasant enough, and she's pretty charming, but I genuinely don't get it
"that grandmothers will love"eh? (Oscar bullseye!?) I'm eager to see where you, the reader, land on this one. Maybe the hype was too long and forceful for the frothy charms of a picture that admittedly should cut a little deeper. On the other hand maybe more and more people will continue to flip their...


Arkaan said...

I agree that An Education has a couple faults, but yeah, I flipped for it. As you said, it's essentially a largely well judged storytelling unit elevated by a terrific cast (Pike, Cooper, Seymour, Williams et al all do wonderful, SAG-Ensemble worthy work) and Mulligan is simply pitch perfect.

Jim T said...

Nathaniel, I think your B+ was the perfect evaluation. It's a good movie, not a great one. It doesn't try to be a great one, I believe. If I had heard nothing about Mulligan's performance I would have probably said "She was quite good". But everyone thinks she was wonderful and I don't find much reason to disagree. It's just that I didn't spot brilliance perhaps because the role wasn't too showy. Then again, Michelle Williams' role wasn't too showy but I loved her. Anyway, if Mulligan wins the Oscar, I will not object (of course I'll have to watch other performances as well). She was perfect even if I'm not convinced it was a very demanding role. Don't shoot me. :p

I'm planning on watching it again. Maybe I'll change my mind.

Anonymous said...

This movie totally boring
I was not concentrating on "Jenny"

Anonymous said...

Jenny looks 36....not 16!!!!!!!!!

Jim T said...

A still form the banana scene? Nathaniel, you're so nasty. :p

Anonymous said...

To Jim...if Mulligan wins the Oscar, I will object!!!
she's good ...but not great

adam k. said...

Nathaniel, who do you want to win best actress this year? Are you good with Mulligan beating Streep? (and Pfeiffer, Cornish, Swinton, etc. for matter)

Should be an exciting oscar race...

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'm totally with txt critic on this.

Thoroughly enjoyable, contrived little thing with an adorable girl giving an adorable, natural, perhaps even excellent, but not spectacularly accomplished performance. The Oscar talk freaks me out.

That said, I'm willing to get behind whatever prevents Meryl Streep from winning an Oscar for putting on yet another funny voice in Julie and Julia. I'm totally with you, Nathaniel, in your fury at people still creaming themselves over Robert de Niro and Al Pacino 19 and 34 years (respectively) after their last great performance. But I haven't found Streep remotely interesting to watch for at least a decade.

adam k. said...


Angels in America? Adaptation? Devil Wears Prada? Prarie Home Companion?

I think she was pretty interesting in all of those.

But in my dream world, it'd be the other "Julia" movie that wins the Best Actress oscar. Swinton rules all.

Arkaan said...

Y Kant Goran Rite, what would be a "spectacularly accomplished" performance? I'm curious about examples (not to be combative, because if I could describe a performance as "excellent," that would be enough for me).

Anonymous said...

I don't think Mulligan deserves a nomination.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I adore Adaptation, as well as Cage and Cooper's contributions to it, and I found Meryl thoroughly adequate, but not particularly interesting. I didn't find she brought much to the role that wasn't already in the writing.

In Angels in America, she's good but far too aware of being Meryl. Ditto in Prairie Home Companion, except she isn't good, she's downright irritating. Few other actors are so desperate to outshine others in an Altman film.

The praise she gets for Devil Wears Prada I find most confounding. She hammers that one false note throughout the film, apart from a single monologue where she doesn't wear make-up and I'm meant to be stunned. From the way people go on about this performance though, I feel I may have missed something. So I might need to watch the film again to revise, but that would mean sitting through it and I'm not sure I can do that to myself again.

Arkaan in my world 'excellent' means it would be among the better performances of the year, even among the 20 best, let's say (which certainly warrants praise and attention). 'Spectacularly accomplished' means Sally Hawkins as Poppy, Anne Hathaway as Rachel, Sean Penn as Milk, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, Brando as Kowalski, Lisa Kudrow as most things, Emmannuelle Devos as anything.

I do actually think Carey Mulligan is really very good in 'An Education', and I think I would have reacted quite violently to its many tritenesses if she wasn't so damn charming (and intelligent too). Though I have no respect for Ampass, I'd still be very happy to see her get a nomination. And even if she wins, she would deserve it more than Winslet or Witherspoon or Mirren or [Audrey] Hepburn did in their respective years. So I'm not at all frustrated to witness all the unrestrained gushing [at her performance rather than the film] from Nathaniel and others. But I just don't understand how it qualifies as a performance for the ages.

Maybe I will when I watch the film again though, I don't know. And maybe I approached it with too-high expectations the first time around.

Paul Outlaw said...

I thought An Education was very good, but not extraordinary and I wasn't crazy about the film's ending. Performances were across the board solid, and I especially appreciated Sally Hawkins' cautionary cameo ("Exactly one year ago, missy, I was you").

NoNo said...

I'll run to see this as soon as I get someone who wants to see it with me. I tried this weekend but the crew wanted to see "Couples Retreat". We battled and I ended up winning with "Good Hair" as a compromise. You have to pick your battles.

DJ said...

I haven't seen anything of Mulligan's, but I'm already super charmed by her. I can certainly see her becoming the next big thing.

She seems like an incredibly gifted, natural actress, but I have heard that her performance doesn't have any big "wow" scenes... she's just excellent all the way through. Maybe like Knightley in Pride and Prejudice.

Nathaniel, how does Mulligan rank against Hawkins' and Hathaway's performances from last year?

Incontention thinks she'll win the Oscar once The Seagull becomes a movie.

Anonymous said...

This movie is bad...
and In this movie , Mulligan wasn't so impressive to me

gabrieloak said...

I know there will be naysayers but An Education was one of those films I knew I would want to see again immediately after it ended.

I suppose it isn't a great movie but I think it will be a favorite of many for years to come.

Sam Brooks said...

For me, although Mulligan is great and perhaps my best actress of this year, I want to champion Rosamund Pike.

She's simply brilliant in this role; a lot deeper and bitchier than her airheadness suggests.


Brooke I think Rosamund Pike is pretty great in the movie too. It's one of those roles that you know would feel just like window dressing and people would call it "thankless" if the performer wasn't making very specific choices and elevating it.

I really liked her in it and I hope it leads to bigger things for her.

I also thought Cooper was pretty great (and I've never really though he was that good. Curiously, I'm least impressed with Alfred Molina who is the surefire Oscar nominee among the supporting cast)

DJ Mulligan is also in Public Enemies. Maybe you have seen her and didn't notice. I didn't make the connection myself.

y kant as you know I love me some Meryl. I can see why people think her best work is behind her to some degree (i mean it's pretty hard to top that 80s run) but I can't see how people can watch her "unravel" in The Hours and not be moved, and I can't see how the dial tone in Adaptation isn't perfectly judged and downright intoxicating (and yeah that's a script thing but it's a script thing that can only register through skilled charismatic performance) and I can't see and never have been able to see why there is a loud pocket of people who think she was anything less than brilliant in The Devil Wears Prada. I've read from so many naysayers that she was cliche in it and the only response I can ever think to that is "have you seen any other movies?" because most actresses would not have played Miranda Priestley that way.

I like Glenn Close so I'm not trying to knock her but imagine her in the role and that's exactly how almost anyone would have chosen to play it. Too forceful, too severe, too underlined. anyway. i should write up that performance because i stand by loving it with all I got.

Anonymous said...

"I like Glenn Close so I'm not trying to knock her but imagine her in the role and that's exactly how almost anyone would have chosen to play it. Too forceful, too severe, too underlined. anyway. i should write up that performance because i stand by loving it with all I got."

Thank you Nathaniel. I always try and imagine another actress in that role and always come to the conclusion that they would be too severe. I have been watching Close in Damages and as much as I ahte to say this, I have come to the conclusion that she is may be a not so great actress.

Nate have you ever considered Sigourney (who just turned 60 BTW) or Susan Sarandan as Miranda.

mB said...

I am thinking this is starting to be a matter of "I don't see where the buzz is" and though the comparison is going to sound absurd, the type of comments on here reminded of the type of reviews coming out of people after seeing Juno two years ago ("It's good, not great, I don't see why people love this film. She's good in it, but why the Oscar talk?") and one does have to wonder whether the defensive nature of such comments would have been there had we not been hearing about how great Mulligan/the film is in it for months.

I thought it was a well-accomplished film whose script and performers elevate over its seemingly paint-by-the-numbers plot. How I could tell Mulligan was in complete control of her performance and why I do understand the Oscar buzz was by looking at her quieter moments (I loved her tap-tapping on her heart as she waits for David to come back from the car, for example).

Only thing I'd change: the voiceover ending, of course.

Arkaan said...

mB, I largely agree. And both Goran and txt critic have mentioned that. Indeed, watching it, you wouldn't be able to guess that it's been hyped the way it has been simply because it is so slight. This isn't the second coming or anything. It's merely a charming, well acted, old-fashioned coming of age study. It makes a couple of missteps (the rush to happiness ending, the rosy-eyed look at a relationship that doesn't merit it), but overall it's a beautiful depiction of a time and place (England pre-swinging/Beatles/Mod scene). It's a film that as soon as I watched I knew I'd watch again.

Goran, thanks for your response. It was your phrase "an adorable girl giving an adorable, natural, perhaps even excellent, but not spectacularly accomplished performance." that confused me. As if you could see why people would call it excellent, but that in and of itself didn't mean spectacularly accomplished (which implies that it's missing bells and whistles, and from your comments here, I know that's not what you mean).

I haven't seen enough to have my lists mean anything, but there isn't a leading lady I've seen this year that matches Mulligan (having not seen Streep, Rachel Weisz comes the closest).

Anonymous said...

Streep vs. Mulligan. I think the win is still a tossup. You have to give the edge to Streep based on her momentum and "past due" status.

Anonymous said...


Can you give us a hint on who you think will win the Oscar in the race between Streep & Mulligan?

Ian said...


Nick Hornby's script (and Lone Scherfig's direction, to a lesser extent) does such a disservice to the ENTIRE movie. It's funny because everyone in the cast has "OMG" moments in the beginning that are so full of potential, and then the movie never delivers on them. Emma Thompson's first scene? Priceless. And then the movie leaves her hanging for the rest of the movie with no satisfying character development.

Ditto for Olivia Williams, who I thought was giving the standout supporting performance in the film until her last scene, which just felt so contrived and turned her character into a device allowing the narrative to reach a happy ending.

Peter Sarsgaard (nothing after the car?), and Rosamund Pike also deserved better finishes. I know the movie was centered around Jenny, and I don't even think they need big Oscar-y character revelation scenes, but it was such a disappointment for the film to build them up and present such intriguing performances only to abandon them just so we could watch Jenny get her Oxford letter and go JK EVERYTHING'S FINE NOW!

And as for Mulligan, I think Hornby's script does her the biggest disservice of all. After seeing her in "The Seagull" on Broadway (with Sarsgaard as an older seducer again), I couldn't help thinking that THAT was the showcase that this movie should have given her. Very similar characters, Jenny and Nina. The only difference is that Nina gets a tremendously satisfying arc (albeit a heartbreaking one), while Jenny's character is basically thrown under the bus at the end just so there can be a happy ending. Mulligan is way too talented for this- once The Seagull comes out, think of it as the movie An Education should have been.

So much potential, very little filling...and overall, Sally Hawkins was totally the best part of it. She conveyed more in that one scene than anyone else did in the entire movie.

Ian said...

or should I say, than anyone else was allowed to...either that or the other characters had more potential/integrality to the story

Ian (again) said...


Anyway, that was way too long and rambling...what I meant to say was that, in short, the characters and performances show SO much promise early on (and well into 2/3 of the movie), that when Hornby and Scherfig fail to let them fully realize their potential so that the film can be safe and conventional in the end, it's very, very, very disappointing because it signifies such a missed opportunity...and since Sally Hawkins' character isn't so integral to the story (well, her scene, at least- the character IS integral, albeit in an off-camera way), her deft, pitch-perfect handling of the little she does have to do is a major triumph in a film which otherwise falls very short of the greatness it SO could have/should have reached if the script/direction weren't so dishearteningly complicit in that bullshit ending!

Anonymous said...

Ellen Page = Carey mulligan
1. Talented actress
2. acting ability:
drama: O, Comedy: X, action: X
3. movie selection : great
4. Appearance : plain
5. cute:O hot: X
6. Popularity : X
7. performance : great

my preference
1. Talented actor
2. a comic character actor
3. Appearance

they are not my taste

Anonymous said...

how the fuck can you say Ellen page isn't good at comedy? She got a oscar nomination for a comedic role. Don't be a dumbass. As for the plain thing, what are you, shallow? If their not gorgeous you don't give them a second look? Its people like you that make the industry pick talentless, good-looking people and overlook true talent. Carey mulligan and Ellen page ARE good probably great actresses. They should probably work together. Anyhow, I could see how people could be letdown by all the hype going toward this film and her performance but the buzz hasnt reached the general public. Its not like I've seen a commercial yet. Has anybody? It depends on taste I guess. If you could get a good first impression and like the characters and feeling of the film then you could definitly end up loving the film. If not then you don't. That's that.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Am I the only one in the world who finds Ellen Page seriously gorgeous? A terrific actress (watch Hard Candy and Juno back to back and try argue against it) and really pretty as well.

And Carey Mulligan is cute as hell, and in real life, even sexy.

And I'm not one of those people who thinks it's "character" that makes people pretty. (Ie. I won't pretend that just because Megan Fox is terminally vacuous, she's anything less than strikingly beautiful to look at.)

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Am I the only one in the world who finds Ellen Page seriously gorgeous? A terrific actress (watch Hard Candy and Juno back to back and try argue against it) and really pretty as well.

And Carey Mulligan is cute as hell, and in real life, even sexy.

And I'm not one of those people who thinks it's "character" that makes people pretty. (Ie. I won't pretend that just because Megan Fox is terminally vacuous, she's anything less than strikingly beautiful to look at.)

No Bad Movies said...

It's a sad but also true fact that more people are followers than independent thinkers. I have seen the An Education trailer many times, and I know comparing a trailer to the actual movie I haven't seen is absurd, but sometimes you see something special in the trailer, past impressive performances in trailers include Good Fellas, Silence Of The Lambs, Braveheart, Gladiator, Monster, Capote, No Country For Old Men, and most recently seeing Emily Watson in Within The Whirlwind. When I saw those particualr trailer's, Oscar nomination entered my mind. Nothing about Carey Mulligan grabbed me or made jump up and say I have to see this movie! She looks impressive !
There are still many movies and performances to see yet till the end of December for everybody to already be crowning her Best Actress. BTW- Within The Whirlwind will be getting a screening at Boston's Jewish Film Festival in November for any Bostonians that want to check out what looks like a tour de force performance by Emily ( it's been too long ! )


but moviefreak... that basically implies that all worthy performances have "oscar clip" moments. And I don't think that's true.

in regards to Carey and Ellen not being pretty. WHAT? I mean I realize i'm gay and everything but if you ask me most actors and actresses are at least very good looking. They don't get parts to show that they have great skill unless they are (usually)

but yeah the focus on beauty for casting makes me crazy (because again most actors/actresses who get any work are not difficult to look at). It's something that trips up television shows in particular. Remember the stories of how hard it was to cast Gililan Anderson on the X-Files because the studio wanted someone more generically blonde generically "hot"

hollywood often forgets that HOT doesn't last. But if you're good looking AND you have talent you stay warm. ;)

i haven't had any coffee yet. what am i talking about

adelutza said...

It's funny how any conversation about a potential Oscar nomination ( because I don't think, like others, that Mulligan is a lock ) inevitably goes back to Meryl Streep and her being under or over rated . Somehow she became a standard of acting. Every female performance is compared to Meryl's. Which, probably, should be sufficient in any controversy surrounding her being the best actress alive.

But going back to An Education. It's a wonderful film and I really like it. But after a film have been praised for 9 months and talked about like it was the second coming, it's only normal that people feel disappointed. It's just a film, it's not supposed to cure world hunger.

No Bad Movies said...

Could this be one of the more " down " years in the lead actress category ? Nathanial I see what you mean. But certain trailers that I mentioned like Pesci in Good Fellas. Theron in Monster, Day-Lewis in TWBB, when I saw those clips, those hit me in a way where I could see those could possibly be Oscar nominated roles, and that was from not even seeing the movie. OK... instead of asking I don't see what's so special about her performance, maybe someone can tell WHY Mulligan is so great. WHAT it is that is so impressive or strong ?

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Anonymous said...

I loved An Education. Funny & clever. The only bit that I felt let down the rest was the very end. It did not spoil the film for me - more of a quibble at the end of an excellent production. I didn't like the voiceover technique in the closing frames. Nick Hornby, screenwriter, admits there were problems with it