The 1960s are definitely "in" these days, thanks to the cult TV series Mad Men and a spate of high-profile independent features, including A Single Man, A Serious Man, and now An Education, with a screenplay by celebrated novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity). Hornby adapts British journalist Lynn Barber's memoir of her strange year in 1961 when, as a sixteen-year-old girl, she became romantically involved with a charming but suspicious man in his mid-thirties.
The roles have become slightly fictionalized, with the young Lynn renamed "Jenny" (played with effortless appeal by British TV actress Carey Mulligan, 24 years old but easily passing for 16) and her suitor now portrayed sympathetically – well, more sympathetically than Barber had originally depicted him – by American actor Peter Sarsgaard. It goes without saying that there's a creepiness in the relationship between this young girl and this sketchy man twice her age, but Danish director Scherfig and her cast underplay it, with the results being lighter than expected – even when you know things won't turn out well.
The cast is fine, especially Alfred Molina (whom Hornby has given the funniest lines) as Jenny's exasperated father. But the film is flawed.
First of all, Paul Englishby's score is intrusive and cloying. Second, Peter Sarsgaard, despite his talents, seems uncomfortable copping a British accent. It doesn't suit the soft, deliberate cadences of his speaking voice, and as a result it's distracting. Finally, Barber's story has an anecdotal ring to it ("Let me tell you about this weird guy I met when I was a teenager"), and it ultimately isn't compelling enough to justify a major motion picture.
The script includes some quasi-feminist asides about how a girl like Lynn/Jenny in the early '60s didn't have many choices in life, even with a proper university education, and that a future as a housewife was an inevitability no matter which path a young woman took. But Scherfig's film eschews politics and is mostly just a character sketch. If that's all you want, then you'll like An Education. I thought it was a reasonably entertaining picture myself. But if you expect something a bit meatier, something that will really haunt you, then you may leave this film with a shrug. I did.