In 1961 London, Jenny (Mulligan) is a gifted 16-year-old on track for a place at Oxford University, much to the joy of her parents (Molina and Seymour), literature teacher (Williams) and headmistress (Thompson). Then she meets the charismatic David (Sarsgaard), an older man who sweeps her off her feet with a love of the arts, his glamorous life and intelligent friends (Cooper and Pike) who offer more engagement than Jenny finds with those her age. Jenny loves being all grown up around them. Who needs Oxford?
Of course, as the story progresses, David starts to seem increasingly predatory, which gives the film a shadowy undertone that causes crises for everyone in Jenny's life, mainly because she's so determined to do what she wants to do. And the story is told from an intriguingly nostalgic angle, as if all of the characters are being seen through the haze of Jenny's memory, from David's dualities to her parents' and teachers' attempts to protect her from her own stubbornness.
Along the way, the story also reveals important life lessons that are actually quite provocative. The main issue here is whether risking your future is worth having a full life today. This is a question no one can really answer, but at least the filmmakers have a go, and get our minds spinning as we think about such issues as why education is valued so far above experience. Although the script really only raises these things without offering true insight.
What makes this essential viewing is the cast, all of whom deliver full-bodied performances. Mulligan gives a star-making turn as Jenny, a thoroughly engaging central character we can really identify with. While Sarsgaard bravely portrays the handsome, smiling suitor as someone with sinister edges. The entire supporting cast is excellent as well, with Molina the standout as the doting, worried father. And Scherfig wrangles everyone into beautifully natural characterisations that make the most of film's somewhat slight approach.
Run time: 100 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th February 2010
Box Office USA: $12.5M
Distributed by: Sony Classics
Production compaines: BBC Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 169 Rotten: 10
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Lone Scherfig
Screenwriter: Nick Hornby
Starring: Carey Mulligan as Jenny, Olivia Williams as Miss Stubbs, Peter Sarsgaard as David, Alfred Molina as Jack, Cara Seymour as Majorie, Dominic Cooper as Danny, Rosamund Pike as Helen, Sally Hawkins as Sarah Goldman, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes as Hattie, William Melling as Small Boy #1, Connor Catchpole as Small Boy #2, Matthew Beard as Graham, Ellie Kendrick as Tina, Nick Sampson as Auctioneer, Kate Duchene as Latin Teacher, Bel Parker as Small Girl, Emma Thompson as Headmistress, Luis Soto as Rachman, Olenka Wrzesniewski as Shakespeare Girl #1, Bryony Wadsworth as Shakespeare Girl #2, Ashley Taylor-Rhys as Petrol Attendant, Beth Rowley as Nightclub Singer, Ben Castle as Nightclub Band, Mark Edwards as Nightclub Band, Tom Rees-Roberts as Nightclub Band, Arne Somogyi as Nightclub Band, Paul Pilot as Nightclub Band, Phil Wilkinson as Nightclub Band, James Norton as Student, Charlee Hall as Baby 1 (uncredited), Neo Hall as Baby 2 (uncredited), David Wayman as Man in Cafe (uncredited)