Hank Sartin reviews An Education.
Everything you may have heard about Mulligan’s breakout performance in this film is true; with baffling ease, she steals a movie from such noted movie-stealers as Molina, Sarsgaard and Thompson. As Jenny, a too-clever girl in early 1960s London who gets involved with an older man, Mulligan delivers little surprises in almost every scene. It can be a line reading or the way she carries herself or an exquisitely held pause. No one around her is bad; it’s just that she’s so good.
Jenny seems to be conducting her life with a slight ironic detachment, so that when she says she’s planned out the loss of her virginity for her 17th birthday, it seems like a little joke she’s sharing with life. For a while, it’s fun watching her break free of the carefully plotted life her father (Molina) has in mind for her in the most scandalous way she can, by dating 30-ish operator David (Sarsgaard). And Jenny’s justification for her rebellion against conformity, delivered in an amazing speech to school headmistress Thompson, is so compelling that it’s a bit of a shock when the script turns moralistic and conservative in the second half. It says a lot for Mulligan and Sarsgaard that for nearly half the movie they make the idea of a 30-ish man dating a girl of 17 seem daring but not icky. In this day and age, that’s a hell of an accomplishment, and it’s largely Mulligan’s doing.