The new film “An Education” is that rare beast, an improper romance between an older man and a younger woman not directed by Woody Allen.
The period drama, now playing in independent theaters nationwide, reminds us why some young women long for sophisticated suitors – even if it means setting aside sound judgment.
It’s also a showcase for young actress Carey Mulligan, whose bright faced character longs to grow up all at once.
And there’s not a single black and white image of New York City in the entire film.
Mulligan plays a 16-year-old student named Jenny pining for the next stage in her life to begin. She feels penned in by her parents and can’t fire off her application form for Oxford University soon enough.
Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard, a dashing older man who offers her a ride on a rainy day. She accepts, starting a courtship that complements her hunger for a more adventurous life.
David loves classical music and fine art, and he’s eager to share his cultural insights with Jenny. He even sweet talks her boisterous father (Alfred Molina) into showing her around town despite their age difference.
It’s only a matter of time before Jenny learns the truth behind David’s opulent lifestyle.
“An Education,” set in the early 1960s, asks a bit too much of its audience. Jenny’s parents, particularly Molina’s character, should be far more suspicious of David’s intentions. And had Jenny come from a broken, or at least splintered home her ability to see past David’s flaws might be understandable.
Still, Mulligan makes Jenny’s choices fascinating to watch. It’s an unforced performance graduating from age-appropriate naivete to world weariness in measured steps.
The Oscar talk surrounding the actress’s work here is more than justified.
“An Education” doesn’t quite know how to wrap its own story, choosing a lazy resolution that feels in a hurry to make us forget the previous 90 or so minutes.
Mulligan’s enthralling performance in the film won’t be dismissed so easily.
(Photo: Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard play mismatched lovers in “An Education.”/Sony Pictures Classic)