Friday, May 21, 2010
A film review by Jordan Overstreet
Director: Taylor Hackford
Producer(s): E1 Entertainment International
Screenplay: Mark Jacobsen
Main players: Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, and Sergio Peris-Mencheta
Helen Mirren, brothel Madam.
Not the two words you would usually associate with the Oscar-award winning Dame of the British realm, yet Mirren makes the leap from Queen Elizabeth II to Nevada brothel owner, Grace Bontempo, in Taylor Hackford’s recent film “Love Ranch,” which made its market premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last week. With a colorful supporting cast including Gina Gershon and Taryn Manning, the film follows Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Mirren and Pesci) as they run the first legal brothel, the Love Ranch, in 1976 Nevada. While perhaps an unlikely vehicle for Hackford, who’s last directorial venture was “Ray” in 2004, his partnership with Mirren could be the culprit for his sign on to the project. Like the Bontempos, Mirren and Hackford share a partnership that has lasted since 1986, a rare commodity in today’s marital climate. Nonetheless, it is Hackford’s direction of the film that makes what sounds like another installment of the sleazy Home Box Office (HBO) series, “Cathouse” (which captures the daily ups and downs of the Bunny Ranch in Nevada), actually plausible and dramatically entertaining. “Love Ranch” at its core is a coming of age story about an older woman, recently diagnosed with cancer, who must come to terms with her disease.
The film begins with Mirren, sporting a sleek red bob, confessing to the audience, “my mother always told me, if you are good at something, you will be successful.” (What an opening line!) As the titles role, we are transported to the Love Ranch’s 1976 New Year’s celebration. Our first glance of Mirren is from the neck down as she hobbles through the lounge with a cane in hand (very fitting for the environment.) Hackford pulls away to reveal Mirren looking vaguely similar to Tammy Faye Messner with her red hair piled on top of her head in a very 1970’s up-doo. Charlie is introduced to thunderous applause and Pesci, dressed in a purple leisure suit with matching cowboy hat and boots, takes the stage. Pesci, the great character actor of crime moguls, is up to his usual tricks in his role as Charlie. It as if he has aged to perfection and Jacobsen’s dialogue allows Pesci to open up like a good reserve wine. While it takes him several tries, Pesci finally manages to get “his better half,” Grace, on stage. Finally Mirren joins Pesci and we get a sense of their union.
The marriage between the two, while rough around the edges (Charlie is a known bed partner to many of the ladies of the Ranch), is based on a strong partnership, of which Grace is the engineer behind the operation whilst Charlie is the face of the brothel; yet after learning she has cancer, Grace’s disease threatens to undermine their partnership seeing as she cannot tell Charlie of her illness. As Pesci’s “Charlie” succeeds in the brothel business, he looks for other ways to spend his revenues and invests in an Argentinean boxer, Armando Bruza (Peris-Mencheta). Lacking the time to properly manage Bruza, Charlie leaves Grace in charge of the heavyweight and the two embark on an unlikely romance.
In his first major screen appearance, Sergio Peris-Mencheta triumphs as the fallen bowing hero. After succumbing to addictions of success, which consequently lead to the deaths of his wife and young son, Bruza hopes to use this opportunity from “Charlie Goodtimes” as he refers to Pesci, as a means to redeem himself from his past failures. Grace finds this endearing, and the two share a cute scene during which Bruza teaches Grace how to manage a fighter. Not getting the attention she needs from Charlie, Bruza steps in and, despite the vast age difference between the two, fills that void sexually. What began as a fling becomes a far more serious relationship after Bruza suffers a significant head injury during his first major fight. Grace drives Bruza, who is covered in sweat and blood, to the hospital only to learn that he has a metal plate in his head and cannot fight anymore. Grace, heartbroken, returns to the Ranch to find Charlie in a state of anger, citing her disappearance following the fight as the cause. To tired to argue, Grace retires to her room and is later awoken by Bruza, who fled the hospital after learning he needed brain surgery. Like Grace, Bruza is dying too, and they find solace in their encroaching deaths. Grace, knowing her death with destroy Charlie, decides to flee with Bruza, however Charlie becomes an obstacle they cannot cross.
“Love Ranch,” which opens in the States in July, is packed with strong performances across the board; however Mirren and Pesci are the reason to see this film. Mirren’s performance as Grace Bontempo is sure to be a hit with the over-forty crowd, and her romance with the younger, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, proves that while many attempts have been made to bury the term in pop culture, the cougar is alive an well. Long may she reign.
A film review by Jordan Overstreet
Director: Mike Leigh
Producer(s): Focus Features International
Screenplay: Mike Leigh
Main players: Jim Broadbent, Oliver Maltman, Lesley Manville, and Ruth Sheen
There is something sexy about watching the lives of others; it lies in the mystery of understanding who exactly these people are that you see in front of you; why do they act they way they do? When I read the description of Mike Leigh’s newest film venture, Another Year, I thought his study of a year in the life of a middle-class British couple, Gerri and Tom (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent), would be the right entrée to feed the voyeur in my mind. Unfortunately, like too many of the official selection films at Cannes this May, Another Year was undercooked.
The film, written by Leigh, is divided into four segments: spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and begins in spring with a cameo by Imelda Staunton, a familiar face in Leigh’s films. Looking warn out, Staunton journeys to her physician for sleep aids. As Staunton’s doctor questions her about the cause of her sleep deprivation, Staunton suggests that all is not well in her marriage of twenty plus years. Leigh cuts to a shot of Tom working in his garden with Gerri as it begins to rain. They find shelter in a shed and as they eat their lunch in silence, the simplicity of their actions evokes a comfort. Leigh then cuts back to Staunton waiting on her prescription from her doctor. Before I realized that Tom and Gerri are married and the central characters of the film, I perceived this editing choice to imply that Staunton was the protagonist, meaning that she was married to Broadbent and it was his affair with Sheen which created the problems Staunton reveals to her physician. I was terribly disappointed to see Staunton vanish from the screen for her character had depth. Here was a woman on the edge of her sanity and I was interested in why her family exhausted her so. I wanted to know if she would succumb to her inner demons like her alcoholic husband. Very Tennessee Williams of me, I admit, but there was something to her character. As for the main fixtures of the film, Tom and Gerri, there is nothing sexy about them. Their relationship is painfully simple and is so beige and as the seasons wear on, watching them interact is about as fun as watching paint dry. I am not suggesting that Gerri needs to throw a glass egg at Tom, or that Tom go and screw of friend of Gerri’s. I would, however, like them to do something other than thwart the comedic genius that is Lesley Manville.
The grieving period for Staunton’s disappearance is short thanks to the arrival of Mary, a secretary in the hospital where Gerri is a therapist. Single, husbandless, and childless, Mary is well on the path to becoming an old maid. But unlike the staunch feminists commonly played by Katherine Hepburn throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, Mary is nothing short of a wild ass. Wearing low cut blouses and short skirts, Mary brings sexy back into this humdrum drama. When Mary and Gerri go out for drinks, the bottle of white wine shared between the two is disproportionally shared. Mary, well in her cups, notices an attractive older man sitting alone and attempts to grab his attention, but a younger blonde saunters in and greets him with a kiss. Its not that Mary wants to be alone, she just cannot seem to find her proper mate.
Summer ushers in Ken (Peter Wight), an overweight alcoholic smoking fiend, who seems to be battling demons of his own. An old friend of Tom’s, Ken appears to be tie that the couple just cannot cut. Mary and Ken share several minuets on screen, during which the nature of their relationship is instantly established when Ken greets a skittish Mary with a slobbery, wet kiss on the cheek. Ken is downright foul and no one wants to see him end up with Mary. Gerri and Tom’s son, Joe (Oliver Maltman) soon becomes the object of Mary’s affection. In his early thirties and single, Joe, like Mary, cannot seem to find the right mate and falls victim to many of Mary’s flirtatious advances. Envious of the simplicity of Gerri and Tom’s life, Mary sees Joe as a means to enter their world. However, during the autumn segment, Joe brings his lively lady friend, Katie (Karina Fernandez), to his parent’s home for dinner, Mary is crushed and her lack of manners towards Katie strains Mary’s friendship with Gerri. When Gerri closes her door to Mary, Sheen’s coldness comes off as mean and unnecessary. Moreover, it puts an end to the only compelling aspect of the film--Mary.
Winter is just depressing and sad. The wife of Tom’s brother dies and the funeral shenanigans feel like a large digression from the plot, but it’s the year of Gerri and Tom so boredom is to be expected. Mary’s arrival is unwelcomed by Gerri and her once cute quirks are now a nuisance. As Joe and Katie’s marriage takes center stage, there is no room for Mary--a pitiful ending to such a vibrant character.
The presentation of the film, in contrast, is well done. The seasons are beautiful well defined by cinematographer Dick Pope. As the story turns from the comedic to dramatic, the lighter spring yellows and pinks transition to the blues and grays of winter.
I still don’t know what Leigh was trying to say with Another Year. Was it a celebration of human relationships? Was it made to make us fear being alone? Or was it just another year? At best, Leigh explains that life takes on a cyclical nature, for it is obvious that Mary will be the next Staunton. Nevertheless, as a lover of dysfunctional families and dramas that explore these bonds, I was not satisfied. Where was the film’s heart? Passion? Nonexistent. I found myself wondering, if I was thirteen again and I stumbled upon Gerri and Tom in their kitchen, would I be inspired? Perhaps if Mary was sitting at the table, downing her sorrows in a large glass of white wine, my voyeuristic curiosity would be peaked. All I do know is that if Gladys Kravitz lived next-door to these people, I doubt very much that she would spend her time huddled by her window spying on their behavior.
A film review by Jordan Overstreet
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Producer(s): MK2 Productions
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Main players: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell
If Meryl Street is America’s greatest working actress, then Juliette Binoche is France’s. Binoche’s performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Copie Conforme” (Certified Copy), which premiered Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, has secured her place on the podium for the title.
While a certain vagueness is required when re-telling the plot of the film so that each audience member has the ability to draw his or her own conclusions, “Certified Copy” the relationships between man and woman through a few hours that “She” (Binoche) and James Miller, a British writer, (William Shimell) spend in a Tuscan village. When we first met our leading man and lady, James is giving a lecture on his newest book entitled, Certified Copy, in which he argues that copy of an original creation can be just as valuable as the original (ie., a copy of the Mona Lisa can be just as beautiful as the original); moreover, it is only our knowledge that what we are viewing is a copy that changes our perception of the value of a given item. “She,” a single mother, can only listen to the lecture for a few minutes before her son’s hunger takes priority and she must depart; however, “She” leaves her number for James, hoping for a date with the writer. The following day, James and “She” embark on a journey to a neighboring town, where they are mistaken for a married couple in a coffee shop. This accident of mistaken identity spawns a game of “husband and wife,” leaving the spectator to decide if the relationship between James and “She” is real or merely a copy of a marriage.
Ms. Binoche has never been better. Kiarostami’s script allows Binoche to showcase her talent as the dialogue changes from English to French, and even to Italian; each change brings bouts of comedy, drama, and farce, allowing Binoche to showcase her range. In their car ride over to their destination, Binoche’s comedic drive is at an all time high as she shares an anecdote with James about her sister Marie, who is married to a simple man that stutters. “She” detests her sister’s husband noting that he can’t even say her name correctly (he calls her “M-M-M-M-Marie”); while “She” finds this cacophonous, she asserts that Marie finds his speech impediment harmonious; he sings Maries’ name. James, siding with Marie, reveres this simple man, yet “She” cannot understand his love for Marie--she finds it to be a copy. However, James asserts that this dissonance, “M-M-M-M-Marie,” is in fact an attribute of their unique relationship, thus making it real. Marie’s marriage will become “She’s” measuring stick for her relationship with James.
Once in the town, the two go into a coffee shop, during which James disappears to take a phone call and an aging waitress believes “She” and James to be a married couple. “She” does not correct this observation, and when James returns he too plays along with this idea. However, as the film wears on, this game of “husband and wife” teeters on the line between reality and fantasy. Like Edward Albee’s Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Ms. Binoche’s “She” is so dedicated to the game--this fifteen year marriage between herself and James--that she leads the audience to believe what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a true marriage. However, Mr. Shimell’s “James” brings the audience back to reality. Shimell, who is originally trained in the operatic arts as a baritone, makes his first screen appearance in the film. Knowing this, his shortcomings in the role can be forgiven; he’s a newbie. Nonetheless, Shimell’s “James” is no George and is less dedicated to the “husband and wife” game than “She.” He does not remember to look at “She;” he has forgotten where they spent their wedding night. Because of this, Shimell’s “James” pulls the audience in the other direction and leads them to believe that what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a copy that James and “She” have created of a marriage.
Nevertheless, I believe that what was presented on screen by Binoche and Shimell was actually just a copy. I base my assessment on Binoche’s final lines to Shimell, during which she calls him “J-J-J-J-James,” as if begging for a real commitment from him. Whether it is merely a game or the real deal, what exists between Binoche and Shimell is powerfully deep bond. There is definitely more to their relationship than what meets the eye. I encourage others to visit this film; allow it to provide the catalyst to analyze one’s own relationship; is it real or is it a certified copy?
Thursday, May 20, 2010
A film review by Jordan Overstreet
Director: John Doyle
Producer(s): Myriad Pictures
Screenplay: Horton Foote; based on the book, Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis
Main players: Orlando Bloom, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Colin Firth, and Amber Tamblyn
John Doyle’s Main Street, starring Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Orlando Bloom, Patricia Clarkson, and Amber Tamblyn, premiered last Thursday at the 63rd annual Festival de Cannes. Based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel of the same name, Main Street is a posthumous work from the late Horton Foote, who penned the screenplay after a weekend visit to Durham several years earlier, during which he found downtown to be completely empty. Foote, who is best known for To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, A Trip to Bountiful, Orphans’ Home Cycle, The Young Man from Atlanta, and most recently Dividing the Estate, is very much in his element. The film, which marks Doyle’s first major motion picture venture, follows the intersecting lives of various members of the dying Durham community in upstate North Carolina. While home to the prestigious Duke University, a popular destination for many affluent Americans seeking higher education, Durham, as the film suggests, has not prospered in the influx of the nouveau riche; and this once vibrant empire of the North Carolina tobacco industry, has, like many small towns across the South, withered away. Thus, when Gus Leroy (Firth), rolls into town with his big plans to revive Durham, his arrival provides the catalyst for the film. While his plan for rebirth is just the medicine to heal the dying economy, it comes at a price, leaving many residents to question whether Leroy’s presence is merely an accident or divine intervention.
We first meet Georgiana Carr, the aging daughter of a tobacco millionaire, as she recants Durham’s “Golden Age” (that began as a result of Reconstruction and carried on through the 1940’s) to a prospective realtor. Through a low, wide-angle shot, Doyle captures Georgiana sitting on the porch of her spacious white estate, which is reminiscent of a modern-day version of Blanche Dubois’ Belle Rive, in downtown Durham. Like the wrinkled Georgiana, the house too shows signs of aging--chipped paint, cobwebs, etc--and as Doyle pulls away to reveal a small compact car made in the 1990’s, Georgiana’s world is seen as outmoded and she herself becomes a tangible symbol of decay. Ms. Burstyn, last seen as “Miss Addie” in Tennessee Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, appears to be on a ‘wilting Southern heroine’ kick, in which she, sans make-up, portrays women on the brink of death. Much of her time was devoted to hurrying about her home in a fit of tears fueled by her fear of the outside world, but the blame for this lies on Doyle’s direction, not Ms. Burstyn. Georgiana’s motive throughout the film seems to be her desire not to fear her impending death, and Ms. Burstyn translates this well. Georgiana’s fear of dying is further bolstered by the arrival of Leroy.
Suspicious of an intruder lurking outside, Georgiana calls her niece, Willa (Clarkson) to the scene, and on her drive over, it is Willa who witnesses Leroy’s two Hispanic workers smoking outside of Georgiana’s downtown warehouse, once used for the storage of tobacco. A member an earlier generation of Durham youth who had left town to go on to bigger things, Willa has returned home following her divorce. Willa is a headstrong, forty something divorcee, who’s concern for Georgiana’s well being is a top priority. Ms. Clarkson far outshines her co-stars in this film. Her chemistry with Ms. Burstyn is top notch and the two play off of each other well. As Willa becomes Georgiana’s protectorate, the audience is introduced to Leroy’s line of business--hazardous waste management.
Entering town in the middle of the night (poor choice by Doyle seeing as a daylight appearance would have been a stronger choice dramatically speaking), are a fleet a white trucks carrying canisters of hazardous waste material (a phrase that becomes far over used throughout the film). Entering Georgiana’s warehouse in an electric blue button down and black suede cowboy boots is Gus Leroy. Mr. Firth, whose last motion picture appearance as the suicidal homosexual in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, attempts to prove yet again that he too possesses a chamelon-esque quality like that of Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, Mr. Firth cannot play a Texan. His slow drawl is forced and his chemistry with his leading lady is not up to par (there’s a first time for everything). Ms. Clarkson ultimately saves the day by bridging the age gap between Mr. Firth and herself. Nevertheless, the triangle of Georgiana, Willa, and Leroy remains the most compelling aspect of the film.
In Foote’s “B” plot line, he explores the newest generation to enter the Durham workforce through the characters of Harris Parker (Bloom), a police officer by day and a law-student by night, and Mary Saunders (Tamblyn), a sectary in a law firm who is dating her much older and very married boss. Harris remains in Durham to support his aging mother, while Mary appears to be stuck in her fear to move away from Harris, who is her high school sweetheart. Through this entrapment, Foote attempts to explain the loss of the Durham workforce--the kids are just moving away. However, Mr. Bloom and Miss Tamblyn find themselves, like their characters, trapped in Foote’s subplot. Foote has created an ensemble drama and has done a poor job of truly weaving his subplot into his main story. This beginners mistake is out of character for such a celebrated writer and would have been caught in another draft of the script, however, my guess is Foote’s health did not permit another re-working, leaving us stuck with this draft. Doyle does a noble effort attempting to cover-up any plot holes by trying to link these two stories together, however, his theatrical background in the West End fails to aid Doyle in being successful.
With such a well-rounded cast, a script from Horton Foote, and an acclaimed Broadway director on board, Main Street should have been a success, yet it is a total disappointment. The great climax of the film occurs when Leroy’s fleet of white trucks, carrying hazardous waste, are in an accident on the side of the highway. Expecting the worst, the audience is very much let down when we learn that the canisters did not, in fact, rupture. So many times throughout the film, Foote gives us reasons to not trust Leroy, but we end up seeing his as a Christ-like figure that has come to save Durham from death and escort Georgiana to her final resting place. Perhaps if Doyle or Foote had factored in the thoughts of the audience, a very different film would have been produced; one that would have held my attention. Despite this, Doyle is successful in his overall goal of suggesting that sometimes death is the only means for survival. I wonder if the death of Main Street at the box office will help it survive, Mr. Doyle?
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Meet the most absurd group of human beings I know. This is my entourage while I'm on the Riviera and we roll 30 people deep. I wish I could converse more, but I have to practice my opening line if I run into Meryl Streep while adjusting my spanex in the Ladies' lounge this evening. I also have to get pampered for my red carpet debut. And suggestions as to who I should trip? I'm thinking Russell Crowe maybe? When asked by Chelsea Handler who was the actor she most despised, Cloris Lechman revealed her utter disdain for the Oscar winner, calling him a "dough boy." Handler asked if Cloris had ever worked with Crowe. Cloris' response: "No." Gotta love her!
It's been real,
Overstreet on the Riviera
Monday, May 10, 2010
I know you have heard it before. You probably have a laundry list of your own. Yours could even trump mine. Nonetheless, I will begin this post with the ritual anecdote regarding airline travel...
Ok so maybe its the fact that Sewanee does not put cable in our rooms, and the little television I do watch is hulu videos of "Saturday Night Live" episodes. Bottom line: I had no idea a volcano erupted. The first I heard about any volcano, I was watching SNL and Seth Myers was doing a segment on "Weekend Update" about the volcano. Well, the volcano is located on Mt. Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland. 1) Mt. Eyjlafkajsbiabieub?? Really? Sounds like someone got lazy and was like, "let me type every single letter I can and make it a word." Mary Poppins can't even sing this one. And Iceland of all places? Iceland is not a real country. They are so not allowed to pull this. International screw-ups are reserved for a select list of people: us (obviously...high-five W!), Japan (contain your SARS. Lock it up.), Britney Spears (her vagina has more hits on google than coverage of the Iraq war.), the Germans (they are always screwing stuff up--hello? Nazis.), and of course, Sarah Palin (I read your book; the only thing that should be in an Alaskan's dinner plate, next to the mashed potatoes, is you.)
So the volcano put me back a few hours. No biggie. I enjoyed running through the Charles de Gaulle airport with my 4 suitcases (I had an hour to pack, but its me so what do you expect?). Good news: my suitcases are matching. Bad news: they're matching. There I am running like a member of the Kenyan olympic track and field team across the sea of French people, and I hear "Jordan Overstreet. AirFrance is paging, Jordan Overstreet. Final boarding call." Fabulous. I finally make it to the gate and get on the plane, only to find that yes, I was the only American, and yes, I have forgotten all--if any--of the French I learned senior of high school. Sorry, Mademoiselle Eubanks, we all can't be Catherine Denevue. Ok so I land in the Nice airport an of course, I look like death just warmed over so I had to put my face on. I get out of the bathroom to find that there are no bags left on the baggage claim carousel. Not even missing a beat, an AirFrance rep saunters over and drops the bomb that my luggage is on the plane behind me. Fabulous, I will just wear this ensemble (including the spanex) for 6 weeks. Well Madame AirFrance encourages me to wait for them, and seeing as the plane is only an hour and half away, I agree. She points me in the direction of the bar. She knew me too well. 4 glasses of red wine later, I finally get my bags and hop in a cab to my apartment. We are actually staying in Juan-les-Pins, which is like the Winchester of the South of France. Everything closes at 7 and the Wiffenpoofs chains are everywhere! But its cute and the apartment is close to the beach so all is forgiven.
I get this text from Betsy this morning: "Are you making friends? Did you lose them yet? I am worried about you." Hold the phone, Bets Bets, who do you take me for? The mousey quiet girl in the corner? I think I will be fine. That being said, I made friends!! Whooo hoooo. Frampton and Kyndall, I found a trifecta for Cannes. You haven't been replaced, just reproduced. The people in my corner of judgement at Blake and Katie. I mean Blake said "Robert Osbourne." I said "Turner Classic Movies." He said "I love Katherine Hepburn. I said "Bette Davis is my bitch." He said "fine, Eve Harrington, you can have her; Kate's mine." After that exchange, friendship is inevitable. You can find us at the Carlton, its going down. We will be those people having breakfast with Cate Blanchett. Be jealous! As for the program itself, Cannes is going to be so fun!! We had orientation today and got the 411. There are so many films going to be screened. James Franco is going to give a lecture on his new film in the American tent. Susan Sarandon is here because her new movie, "Wallstreet 2: Money Never Sleeps" is premiering out of competition. Not to mention all of my favorite directors--Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino! Its going to be epic!
Well I need to get my beauty rest. We are off to Cannes tomorrow to get out press badges and I think a bunch of us are going to do the Cannes thing for the evening and hopefully score an invite to a party on Scorsese's yacht!
My life is so not real right now!
Overstreet in Cannes
Thursday, May 6, 2010
A film review by Jordan Overstreet
"Educate me, my sweet educator, you." While Gershwin maybe doing cartwheels in his grave, Lone Scherfig's new film "An Education" is doing cartwheels in the minds of audiences across the country. Set in the 1961 England, this 'coming of age' film follows Jenny (Carey Mulligan in an Oscar nominated role) as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery through her relationship with an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard). As Jenny grows out of her humble school-girl upbringing and into a chic Audrey Hepburn-esque young woman, (which is exquisitely depicted in Odile Dicks-Mireaux's costuming), she begins to wrestle with the question that everyone eventually finds themselves pondering--what is the meaning of life?
One of the fossils left behind from the grandeur of the Golden age in Hollywood, is he student-teacher formula. It has been reproduced, reinvented, and rejuvenated for decades. The 1960's brought us Doris Day who wanted to be Clark Gable's "Teacher's Pet." The 1970's ushered in a new era of sexual promiscuity on film with Mrs. Robinson's iconic seduction of Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate." Fast forward to the 1990's and the student-teacher formula has been repackaged to fit Robin Williams in "Dead Poet's Society." The teacher began as merely a complication in Doris and Gable's meet-cute, however the teacher has journeyed to the bedroom and with this knowledge of sexuality, has returned to the classroom to educate the student on the value of life. Thus, “An Education” begins.
Supported by a brilliant cast including Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson, as the film unfolds, we learn that at the ripe old age of 16, Jenny’s life begins and ends with the question of her acceptance to Oxford. Jenny allows this (and everyone else for that matter) dictate every action. When Jenny proposes ending her cello lessons and doing something she actually likes, her father (Alfred Molina) laments, “What would Oxford think?” The only escape Jenny has is her Juliette Greco vinyl record and her dreams of one day entering the Parisian high life.
Enter David (Sargaard), an older, mature vagabond, in a red roadster. Unlike the other love interest in Jenny’s life, a pimply peer, David is different; he lives the high life. As a graduate of the “University of life,” David shows Jenny the life she so desperately wants--free from the demands of others. Sarsgaard simply shines in his role as this wayward adulterer. Unlike his previous work, Sarsgaard brings depth to a very two-dimensional character. Too many times, Sarsgaard chooses roles that suppress his talents and limit him as an actor. However, his David is his best work yet.
When they meet for the first time, David asks, “Do you go to concerts?” Jenny replies, “no, we don't believe in concerts;” however David asserts, “oh, I assure you, they're real.” For Jenny, David is an escape from the humdrum existence she has experienced. He offers her a chance to live and she takes it.
While Jenny experiences the world, she does so through David’s lens an Oxford becomes a dream of a silly schoolgirl. On a trip to Oxford with David and his friends, Danny and Helen (played by Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike), the college life pales in comparison to what Jenny experiences with David. Pike plays a terrific foil for Jenny in her presentation of the wise fool Helen, who is knowledgeable about sex but when it comes to literature, she is a complete idiot. When Jenny reveals she has gotten a “B” in her Latin class, Helen consoles her and states, “someone told me that in about 50 years, no one will speak Latin, probably. Not even Latin people. “ Helen’s idiotic statements are just one of many witty lines penned by screenwriter, Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”). Hornby’s greatest lines of dialogue are uttered during a heated exchange between an engaged Jenny and her headmistress, Mrs. Walters (Thompson.)
Jenny’s internal conflict morphs itself into a reality when Jenny must choose between David and her education. When called into Mrs. Walter’s office, Jenny articulates the struggle for women during this era--what good is a formal education? Mrs. Walters asserts that Jenny will get nowhere without a degree and that obtaining one is boring and hard, but she still has to do it. Jenny then in turn argues why should life be spent doing things that are boring and hard; moreover, when Mrs. Walters fails to respond to Jenny, she asserts, “It's not enough to educate us anymore Ms. Walters. You've got to tell us why you're doing it.” Unfortunately for Jenny, she will learn soon enough the reason for education.
Upon discovering his marriage to another woman, Jenny breaks off her engagement with David. We learn that like Jenny, David too wanted to escape the demands of his own life when Scherfig introduces David’s first wife. This dissolution of their relationship puts Jenny at the mercy of Mrs. Walters, who notes “You are not a woman.” However, Jenny’s education comes not from the lips of David but from the help of her mousey English teacher, Miss Stubbs (Williams). Williams always delivers a strong performance and her work in “An Education” is no different. Behind her harsh intellectual appearance, Williams masks her true identity--a girl similar to Jenny. In an earlier exchange Jenny suggests that Miss Stubbs is dead, yet in visiting her apartment, Jenny discovers that she did in fact experience life and that Jenny too can fix her setback.
Perhaps it was my state as a transient student, journeying between to universities, that allowed "An Education" to move me so. Nonetheless, Scherfig's film coupled with the fine performance and soundtrack, captures the dilemma of the middle class and leaves the audience wondering, how do remain true to yourself when thrust into a life you don't even remember creating?