Oct 12, 2009

An upside-down Education

An hilarious review of An Education from David Denby in The New Yorker.
"Its been apparent for some time that Peter Sarsgaard is an actor of major talent waiting for that major role, and he almost gets one in An Education. He plays David Goldman, a London hustler of enormous charm who zips around town in a maroon Bristol sports car, and seduces, slowly and patiently a very bright 16-year-old named Jenny."
There follows a brief sentence about Jenny, a character with whom he is none too impressed. Then back to the main event.
"David ducks in and out of at auctions and houses for sale, talking people into selling things for less than they're worth, and then reselling them at a profit. He's furtive and improvisatory, a genteel swindler. He never quite tells the truth but Sarsgaard plays him as a sensitive man with genuine warmth and a gift that even an honest man may lack: hes always plausible. Not matter how far-fetched his inventions, you want to believe in him; his attentions are so personal and so shrewd..."
It goes on like this, in similar vein, for four hundred words. At some point Denby has, grudgingly, to admit that "the movie is told from [Jenny's] point of view" but Denby leaves us in no doubt as to his opinion of her: "Smart as she is, she doesn't ask herself why such an attractive and seemingly accomplished man would bother with a sixteen year old." Is Denby joking? The whole thing is so hilariously upside-down you wonder if he isn't filing his entry for some New-Yorker in-house joke, in which you upend the dramatis personae of a well-known book or play a la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The idea that the movie is not just told from Jenny's point of view, but belongs to her, wholly; that she is in every scene; and that the film has been widely seen as a star-making role for the actress playing her, seems to have passed Denby wholly by. It's like a review of Roman Holiday with high praise for Gregory Peck but barely disguised contempt for that little pest, Audrey Thingummy. Or a review of Darling, which begins "Dirk Bogarde finally gets the breakout role he's been waiting for in John Schlesinger's new film...." And I'd love to have seen his review of Horse Feathers. "Margaret Dumont steals the film again from those lousy Marx Brothers..." Right to the end, he's still at it.
"David may be a pathological liar, but he's not quite contemptible. This seducer is just the opposite of jaded. Sarsgaard makes it seem as if David, out of need, desire, and strength — and weakness too — were experiencing everything for the first time."
That's how it ends! I guess Sarsgaard and Nick can take it as a compliment that the film can be so angled, but still. Denby is the man who made me go and see The Good Shephard back in 2006 — a grudge that shows no signs of abating.


  1. That's pretty astonishing. No only is this Jenny's story, but the movie only works because of Carey Mulligan's performance. She deftly, totally nails the role: innocent and girlish and bored enough to be swept off her feet, though more by the IDEA of David, I think, than the actual man... witness her (Hornby's) brilliant comment after the night in Paris; clever and strong enough that I never really worried TOO much about her, even though I thought David was a sleaze. A great movie, totally carried by Mulligan.

  2. I have long suspected that David Denby and I live on different planets and see different movies, even if it's the same movie. I thought Carey Mulligan was fantastic. It's clearly her movie.