Review in a Hurry: Charming twentysomething English actress Carey Mulligan gives a charming, breakthrough performance as Jenny, a teenager in 1960s England who must choose between the stuffiness of formal education, or the education in life that a charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard) can offer her. The script, by author Nick Hornby (About a Boy, Fever Pitch) is quite good, too.
The Bigger Picture: Odds have it, as of this writing, that the Best Actress Oscar race will probably come down to Meryl Streep versus Sandra Bullock, but neither of them carries their respective movie quite as ably as Mulligan does here.
We're all used to older actors rather conspicuously playing teenagers, but she's completely convincing as a precocious 16 year-old who's a whiz at the cello, and expert in English literature, and prone to lapsing into French in casual conversation. Yet for all her book knowledge, she is ultimately quite naïve in the ways of the world – though, like many teenage girls since time immemorial, she'd never admit that.
Enter David, played by Sarsgaard with a slightly dubious accent that's nonetheless more refreshing than that HAL 9000 monotone he usually adopts. A smooth talker from the get-go, he initially offers Jenny a ride home during the rain, and impresses her with his love of classical music and Paris. Ingratiating himself with Jenny's boisterous, bumbling dad (Alfred Molina) by appealing to his ego and using some well-chosen lies, David is soon taking Jenny on regular dates, and swiftly seems to be on track to ultimately taking her virginity.
Given the strictures of pre-feminist Britain, Jenny's alternative option to hanging out at fancy events with David would seem to be staying in a school that expects her to become either a teacher or a civil servant, resigned to a life of boredom and hard work. Why study when you can go to Paris and have a man buy you everything you need? David, however, is not all that he seems—the realization that much of his wealth is ill-gotten is but the first sign of trouble.
It may all sound serious and slightly dark, but while the movie does indeed acknowledge David's scuzziness even as it has you periodically fall for his charms, it should be noted that the dialogue in general is extremely entertaining; this is mostly a romantic comedy, not the Roman Polanski story. Jenny and her dad get off some great witticisms (she deliberately, he often by accident), and David and his friends are frequently hilarious in their decadence, particularly Rosamund Pike as a fur-wearing boozer who can't bear classical music and assures Jenny that learning Latin is a waste, because in 50 years no one will be speaking it..."not even Latin people."
The 180—a Second Opinion: The screenplay is adapted from a real-life memoir by journalist Lynn Barber, so the climax, like life, may not be as dramatically satisfying as some would wish.
There's so much else to see, too—have a look in our Totally New Releases gallery!