Monday, November 30, 2009

Briefly: An Education (2009)

Television is ruining the movies. In a world where cable has tapped into the potential of smart, thoughtful long-form dramatic television, movies can look awfully small. A cop movie would need to be awfully good to compare with The Wire. Cinematic gangsters will never be the same after The Sopranos. And a coming-of-age drama about a woman's place in the changing society of the 1960s like An Education, handsomely made and uniformly well-acted as it is, can't really rate with a show like Mad Men, which is about the very same topic during very same time period. There's only so much you can do with one story and 95 minutes; Mad Men's already produced thirty-plus hours on the subject. Nearly any film's going to look slight in comparison, though An Education does itself no favors by confining most of its running time to the rather predictable relationship between 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) and thirtysomething David (Peter Saarsgard) and epiloguing most of its messy (and, thus, far more interesting) aftershocks. The film's cinematography is as rich as mahogany and the jazzy soundtrack evokes the time and place of London just prior to its swingin' days. But unfair as it may be, as I was watching it, I couldn't stop comparing An Education to Mad Men. One is like the British Cliffs Notes version of the other. Mulligan's gotten a ton of buzz for her performance, and she is convincing (if a bit too old looking) as Jenny, but I was even more enamored with Alfred Molina as her well-meaning but out-of-touch father. His nuanced performance is full of genuine humor and pathos; despite his limited screentime, he creates a complete character. It's like someone you'd see on television.

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