Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Company: Sony Pictures Classics / BBC Films
Runtime: 100 minutes
The movie is about Jenny Mellor, a young British lady whose does so well in her school. It’s already a usual thing for her to be praised by her teachers for excellent in class. She has friends, and suitors, and of course, a family. Her family consists of Jack, her father, a very outspoken and opinionated man, and Marjorie , her mother, the complete opposite of Jack, a quiet and gentle woman.
Everything does fine in her life. She even manages to do her hobby which is cello playing. She plans on going to Oxford to read English, but it all changes when she meets David Goldman, a financially stable gentleman who is much older than her. He takes interest in her, and started dating her as a friend.
As her frequent meeting with him ensues, her grades start to go downhill, much to the dismay of her father. Her relationship with David deepens, turning their relationship into something romantic. She goes with him to the continent, and she lives the best of live with him. This alarms the headmistress who cares so much for her school girls. Thinking that she has already found the right man for her, she fights for it, even if it means general disapproval from the faculty.
However, she finds out that David is already married, shocking her. He simply vanishes, leaving her heartbroken. With nowhere else to go, she goes to her teacher to ask for help.
In a very simple look at it, you won’t find any extraordinary about it. And I know that it is not extraordinary. But it does something more than that.
The direction is as smart as it is understanding. In the given runtime it has, the direction makes the most out of it to give us this drive at the life of the lead character. What’s so great about this film is that it never wasted any moment in the film. Every minute, there is a development. Some, or most, films take some time to relax or to loosen up, often dragging us. But the direction in this film is so swift and full of intellect that it knows how to make things as tight as possible.
Of course, there are relaxing moments, like the scenes in Paris, but it always adds up to something. The film achieves the pinnacle of subtle direction by doing just that. And there aren’t any false moments in its entire length because the director knows how to tun and manipulate things in a way that we can follow Jenny’s life throughout the turbulent 100 minutes and we thoroughly understand it. The direction’s not of epic proportions, but it’s somewhat a feat.
The screenplay couldn’t get anymore smarter than this. It totally focuses on Jenny’s character but at the same time, it never makes the supporting characters useless. Each character around Jenny signifies the continuous development that the main character undergoes, and it’s all wonderfully placed. Even then, the film never neglects Jenny.
Jenny is the most important character, of course. Here, with the focus it has on her, the screenplay should never let the whole thing down. It should be believable in every way it would be looked at. And it succeeds in capturing the maturity that Jenny experiences that turns out to be immaturity in disguise. But of course, it’s not obvious, so it needs to plant details at the movie before it’s finally exposed. Thankfully, the screenwriter is skillful to do that. It doesn’t deceive us to believe in something false because the dimensions of Jenny and the story are clear to us. It’s a screenplay that is very worthy of the accolades that it got.
The cinematography is simple but charming at times. The editing is simple and well-thought. The sound is perfectly fine. The musical score is tender. The songs used are definitely of equal importance. The production design is well-made. The costumes area thrill to watch.
And now, we have the acting. This film features one of the best ensemble performances of 2009.
Peter Sarsgaard is very good as David Goldman. He evokes a sense of adulthood to Jenny and to us in a very gentle way that we understand why Jenny is comfortable being with this man. He seems to be all-knowing, smart, and knowledgeable to what he is doing in his life that we trust him as Jenny trusts him too. He gives an assurance in his character that I am genuinely shocked when Jenny finds out that he is already married. He’s not a bad guy, he just needs Jenny because he thinks they’re meant for each other, but he cannot escape the truth that he has a family by himself. What we felt for him after the incident was not hatred because he betrayed her but disappointment because we trusted him but in the end, the relationship just won’t work anymore.
Alfred Molina is also very good as the father. His character Jack has a very defensive and perfectionist nature. He wants Jenny to prosper in anything that she does. He doesn’t want French singing in his house. He is alarmed when Jenny goes to the continent because people there don’t really like them. He is very sensitive in the topic of antisemitism. He is disappointed when someone who courts Jenny wants to travel around, as he sees it as being a “teddy boy.” But he does all of this not because he is hostile but because is afraid. He is afraid of what might happen to his daughter because he was afraid himself. He is scared that something wrong may happen to her just because he loves her so much. He gives very strong remarks but he does all of it for Jenny. It’s a commendable turn from Molina in a wonderfully written character.
Rosamund Pike is cool as Helen, a socialite who turns Jenny into a socialite herself. She is very calm and joyful when she talks to everybody and seems carefree, but underneath those fur coats is a woman very cautious of what’s happening. She’s not just there to wear make-up or her nighties, she knows what’s happening.
Olivia Williams is effective as Miss Stubbs. She always praises Jenny for her good job in her class. That’s why she is very disappointed when her academic performance starts to go downhill. Her dismay of Jenny is not a sign of irritation, but it’s a sign of her care for her because she believes in her capability to do anything that she wants because she is smart. And to see her go head over heels for this man with a very bad effect on her studies just hurts her. So, it was a consoling thing for her when Jenny approached her to help her correct her mistakes.
Cara Seymour is delightful as the mother Marjorie. Although she is, I think, the most passive of all the characters, she provides a sturdy foundation for Jenny’s character as you see this woman as a mirror of what will happen to her in the future. It’s the dedicated mother stereotype, but Seymour, being a talented, but questionably underrated, actress, was able to do something to make it not all used up. She is contented with her life, but it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want anything anymore. She supports Jenny in her life because she has dreams too. It’s a very humble performance, but it’s a very three-dimensional performance from Seymour. Thoroughly textured, it’s a very good performance.
Emma Thompson is startling as the Headmistress. She’s the person with the least screentime in the whole cast, but if you’re going to ask me, she has a bigger impact than some of the other actors. Her character has three big movements in the movie – warning, confronting, amending – and in these three short pieces, she was able to make a character that we understand. She wants the best for the women in the school and she doesn’t want anyone to do foolish things, but as she sees Jenny would do what she wants, she reminds her that education is valuable. The only thing that she could do is to remind her of the reason of educating them. The last beat of her performance is her reminding Jenny of the mistakes, as a student and as a woman. She all does it in a very clam way. But Thompson uses her experience to create a woman of authority. She is a woman to look up tom. In her two-and-a-half minutes, she creates a strong woman who lives in the tradition of education. But she doesn’t preach us in what we should do. She is there to give intellectual opinions to Jenny. And, of course, we believe her.
Matthew Bear and Dominic Cooper also provide good if not really noteworthy performances.
Carey Mulligan is simply fantastic as Jenny. I won’t say really much about it other than it’s great, it ‘s a performance that ultimately grows on you, it’s a performance that is acted by a gifted actress and an actress who used her acting skills to give us a character so believable and so humane that its power makes it a credible core for this very fine motion picture. It’s a very natural performance that almost seems to come out of her naturally. It’s an entirely rich performance that will be remembered for the years to come.
Now, we arrive at this question – is this film extraordinary? Well, it doesn’t have any topical issues (Up in the Air), grandiose production (Avatar), or racial discussions (Precious), it shines a s a very fine motion picture. Now, what makes it special from the other period films? It’s so smart and polished and intelligent. It moves in a very speedy pace, and it never brings any boredom in the table. It’s fantastic.
For this, the movie gets:
What are your thoughts, dear reader?