Thursday, February 11, 2010

Movie Review: An Education

(For the radio version, please click here).

It’s an exciting time to be a movie fan in Juneau. Oscar nominated films are playing everywhere. Be sure not to miss “An Education” playing at the Goldtown Nickelodeon this weekend. This film is a best picture nominee and it’s lead player, Carey Mulligan, is nominated for best actress.

And she deserves it. This coming of age story is set in London in the early 1960s. Ms. Mulligan plays one of my favorite movie archetypes, the smart teen who wrestles with the futility adult life’s grind. I like movies that treat their teenagers as fully formed human beings; films that acknowledge a teenager’s capacity for curiosity, intellectual brilliance, and nuance, while also exploring a teenager’s equal capacity of inept social graces and dangerously dismal judgment. By the way, that’s a lot to ask of an actor. The fact Ms. Mulligan pulls off a performance of such maddening grace makes her a front runner for that Oscar.

And here’s another thing about Carey Mulligan, I couldn’t help but stare at her. She has a screen presence. She looks like Katie Holmes, but is British and clearly a better actor. Beyond that though is this presence she has, that is to say, magnetism. Screen presence is a hard quality to pin down, but some actors you simply want to watch more than others. Ms. Mulligan has the most nuanced facial expressions. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. She’s really rather amazing.

The film is about choices and deception. It’s the kind of story that, had it been made in Hollywood, would likely have been creepy, violent, and exploitive. As it is, there is some creepiness, but overall the film maintains a level of decency it could easily have given up to shock the audience. Thus, the shock of this film is much more cerebral, much more about righteous indignation than a sucker punch to the gut.

The performances elevate this good film to something more lasting. In addition to Ms. Mulligan, Alfred Molina is great as an overbearing but loving father, Peter Starsgard plays the enigmatic love interest, Olivia Williams is a patient and understanding teacher, and the great Emma Thompson pops up as a rather nasty school headmistress.

I don’t know if the young Ms. Mulligan can beat the mighty mighty Streep come Oscar time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed as she was the most captivating woman on the big screen this year – in an understated, British sort of way. “An Education” plays this weekend at our beloved Goldtown Nickelodeon. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.

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