Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Education

Genre: Drama
Premise: A 16 year old Oxford-bound girl meets an older man who forces her to rethink her future.
About: An Education has been released in four theaters and looks to expand this weekend. It is considered by many to be an early Oscar contender. This is a 2007 draft, and while the trailer seems to show that very little has changed, I noticed that the name of the male lead is different, which indicates that there have been some changes to the script. It was directed by Denmark native Lone Scherfig, who is probably best known for her 2000 film, Italian For Beginners. Carey Mulligan is said to give a breathtaking "star-is-born" performance in the lead role of “Jenny.”
Writer: Nick Hornby

Scriptshadow is having a weird week. I did a movie review on Monday, which is a first. I’m doing a script review for a movie that’s already out (in 4 theaters) today, and I’m going to do something a little different tomorrow as well. Change is…good? Well, that’s yet to be decided. But in regards to today’s off-kilter approach, I’m reviewing a script called “An Education” because everyone is calling the film one of the early Oscar hopefuls. I thought it might be interesting to read a script for a movie I know nothing about other than that it's supposedly Oscar worthy. Believe me, I’m feeling the pressure. 90% fresh on Rottentomatoes is almost a perfect garden, so I'm going to feel a bit like the Caddyshack gopher if I don't fall in line with the establishment.

Carey Mulligan - A star is born?

It’s the 60s. It’s London. Jenny, our heroine (and that's how she’s introduced to us, as “our heroine”), is 16 years old, that tender age where the general populace isn’t quite willing to take you seriously yet. Her middle class parents, especially her father, care only about one thing: that she gets into Oxford. No doubt Jenny has the brains for it. But does she have the desire? It seems Jenny’s more interested in the world around her than the one surrounded by walls and chalkboards. She loves music. She loves art. She loves the theatre. But it is a world her father refuses to let her explore.

Then one rainy day, a handsome man in a show-stopping car pulls up and offers Jenny a ride home. She’s hesitant at first, but the man seems nice and, well, it’s *raining,* so she figures ‘why not?’ (hey, as long as the person seems nice, right?) The charming Alan is a bit of a curiosity. He apparently never went to college himself and the means by which he was able to aquire this car are as clouded as the foggy London air. But he’s funny and endearing and seems to know so much about the arts that Jenny can't resist him. He suggests they meet again and as soon as he pulls away, she's already counting the minutes.

A courting begins, and pretty soon Jenny is sneaking out and ditching school in order to spend as much time with Alan as possible. They go to plays, they go to upscale art shows, and before Jenny knows it, she’s experiencing the luxurious life of leisure, a life that has its own inherent education, one in which many of the arts and intricities of society are learned, but one where the strict world of academia is ignored. We are of course meant to ask ourselves: Which education is better?

The script takes an interesting turn when Jenny’s parents become a part of Alan’s courting. He comes to them in order to okay his forays with their daughter under the pretense that he is helping her out. Alan informs them that he actually graduated from Oxford, and Jenny’s single-minded but somewhat clueless father is obsessed with the idea of Jenny having an in at the school. He falls for Alan’s charms harder than Jenny herself and soon it isn’t just Oxford he’s letting him take her to, it’s Paris. This part of the script actually bothered me. I don’t care how clueless you are. As a father, if a 30 year old man is taking your 16 year old daughter to Paris, there’s no way you’re going to think he’s simply taking her there to “help her out.” I mean give me a break. Yet that is exactly what we’re supposed to believe.

"Oh yeah, we're just going to go talk about Picasso."

As the script heads towards the final act (**some spoilers here**), I found myself losing more and more interest. The most dramatically effective choice would have been to have Jenny falling hard for Alan, but instead she seems to be wishy-washy in how much she likes him (she's not gung-ho about his marriage proposal). For this reason, when there’s a rather devastating revelation by Alan in the third act, it’s not as effective, because Jenny wasn’t that in love with him in the first place. This was the last in a string of questionable decisions I think Hornby made to lessen the impact of their relationship. To me, you’re always looking for the best way to maximize conflict and drama in a script. It's pretty much Drama 101 that you want to make it difficult for your romantic leads to be together. So I'm trying to figure out what it did for the story to have Alan reveal to Jenny's parents that he was spending time with her. Where's the conflict in that? It’s as if Romeo and Juliet both went to their respective parents and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to hang out with Juliet now.” I guess it might have been difficult to find convincing ways to get Jenny to Oxford and Paris without the parents knowing. But in my mind you figure those problems out if it means sustaining the drama.

This opinion may stem from my ignorance on the setting of the story however. I know very little about 60s London. I don’t know how the average family would react if their 16 year old daughter brought a 30 year old man home. Were Jenny’s parents’ reactions representative of how most families would react? Or did they stray from what the general reaction would be? Knowing the answer to that question would’ve been extremely helpful in trying to figure out how I was supposed to see these characters.

In the end, the fact that the drama was continually undercut means I can’t recommend this. Nor will I probably see the movie.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Whenever you’re making a choice in a screenplay, always ask yourself which decision maximizes the drama, which decision makes your story more interesting. The idea here is to keep the drama heightened, not stifle it. I feel that *this draft* of An Education missed some opportunities in that respect.