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By Elias Savada | January 29, 2009

Carey Mulligan (The Greatest) stars in this Nick Nornby-penned adaptation of Observer journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir. Surrounded by a talented supporting cast, the beautiful Mulligan delivers an insightful performance as Jenny, an intelligent –but bored – young woman trapped in the drabbest place in the world: pre-Beatles London. Her father (Molina) is a stuffy yet loving man with huge dreams for his daughter’s future.

Jenny is going to Oxford whether she wants to or not. And she does want to but her conflicts arise whenever she wants to do anything else with her time. Her love of music, film, and foreign cultures don’t read well on a college application. Vaguely aware of the fascinating worlds around her, the straight-A student pushes those thoughts out of her mind, that is, until she meets David (Sarsgaard) a wealthy lover of music, film, and foreign cultures. He’s a handsome one at that.

Director Lone Scherfig focuses her film around Jenny’s internal conflicts. She doesn’t wish to be an ungrateful daughter but when everything she’s ever wanted is offered to her by an amiable and exciting charmer, it seems like an easy decision. While her friends are stuck in class learning how to be educators and social workers (the only two career paths for girls during this time), Jenny is travelling to Paris, attending concerts, and falling in love. The trouble is, the more she fits in with David and his friends the further her grades slip and her respect for education deteriorates.

At the center of Jenny’s conflicts is a desire to do more in life than marry well. In a time that didn’t see as many females pursuing higher education, she represents those women who were in a position to change things and make a stand against the patriarchy. What the driven student must decide is whether accepting a man’s offer to give her a shortcut is worse than learning a dying language, writing countless essays, and ending up a lower-middle class teacher like all of the other “successful” women she knows.

“An Education” takes a look into how social constructions and traditions attempt to put both men and women in their respective roles. It also examines the alternatives one can make and the consequences they might face if they choose to do so. One of the film’s most disappointing flaws arrives during its resolution when the consequences of her choices are not given enough weight and are apparently pretty easy to overcome.

Scherfig, who is best known for her film “Italian for Beginners” (2000) has directed a film that lends itself to very little criticism. It’s an impressive and strong film with equally strong performances and a well-written script.

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