Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Education

Hype bandwagon, thy name is An Education. One of the most overrated movies of this or any other year with a ludicrous 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and only eleven brave critics on earth willing to point out the fact that the emperor has no clothes, An Education is a made-for-TV melodrama dressed up with some outdoor location shooting in London and Paris, a few minor movie stars, and an admittedly good leading performance. I'm baffled beyond all measure where this film's awards season hype is coming from. It's nowhere near as bad as last year's The Reader, one of the worst films in my lifetime to be nominated for Best Picture, but at least with that one you could see the Academy going glassy-eyed and groaning "Holocaust... masterpiece..." in the same tone with which a zombie goes "braaaaiinnns...", while An Education is just glossy mediocrity, like being served fancily prepared tofu. You can acknowledge the effort, but you're still eating fucking tofu.

Let me see if I can find enough plot to even talk about: Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a bright 16-year-old schoolgirl in 1961 England who dreams of attending Oxford. She's seduced by a 35-year-old playboy played by Peter Sarsgaard who introduces her to art, films, jazz, nightclubs, and Paris. Jenny, enchanted by all this culture, has to decide whether to stay true to her dreams of Oxford or get married and live life for love and art. And that's damn near fucking it. I've left out of the final fifteen minutes or so out of respect for the spoiler code, but that's a tragically complete synopsis up to that point. We spend untold stretches of time watching Jenny make lovey-dovey eyes at Sarsgaard or being awed by all the culture, and holy fucking yawn. There's a few other characters but they've fled my memory so quickly I'm half-convinced I was zapped by that Men in Black red-light device immediately after the screening.

The film contains possibly the most boring virginity loss subplot in the history of onscreen teen characters losing their virginities, only saved from the precipice of completely forgettability one of the most awkward and bizarre movie scenes of 2009 in which Peter Sarsgaard gives Jenny a banana and tells her to loosen her vagina with it before they have sex for the film time. This is not played for laughs. It just happens. I am not making this up; here's an IMDb thread about it. It was so fucking inane I was half-convinced I was having a fever dream right there in the movie theater, but looking back on it, no, even my darkest subconscious couldn't come up with a scene like that. No one could come up with a scene like that, except, evidently, screenwriter Nick Hornby.

Whatever else the film does wrong (everything), Carey Mulligan is quite charming and charismatic in the lead role and managed to keep me awake through stretches that would have been cinematic warm milk with pretty much any other British actress I can think of young enough to play a teenager. I'm sure she'll do just fine in Wall Street 2 this April. But nonetheless, don't see An Education. If I could talk to any critic championing this film I would love to ask which scene exactly they think will linger in memory (either collective cultural memory or their own) by 2011, because every second of this film is leaking out of mind like water through wicker.

2 Stars out of 5

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