No Smoking Signs Were Invented Because of France
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan
By Robert Patrick
A dapper gentlemen tilts his cigarette, knocking off ashes into the indiscriminate wind, as he raises a confident smile on what seems like a pulley led by deviant thoughts. The man in question, David, played by the rarely mercurial Peter Sarsgaard, is a regular Clare Quilty. David is well groomed, exquisitely mannered, and brilliant at masquerading as a likeable character. Jenny (the fantastic Carey Mulligan), a young girl who gets caught up in David’s mysterious escapades, finds herself being charmed by the incessant coos of the aforementioned older man. This sort of taboo subject matter isn’t necessarily a new topic to delve into, being that similar stories have been tapped into by just about everyone, but director Lone Scherfig takes a powerful hack at the unethical hubris of its contents regardless.
The story is set in England, during the 1960s, as our two characters embark on a perverse odyssey that practically derails one of their lives. Jenny is young, perennially focused on her scholastic achievements, and backed by her working class father (Alfred Molina). David, on the other hand, is an enigmatic figure who cuts through the dark one day during a rain storm – ominous, I know – to apprehend the attention of Jenny, who blushes at his subtle advances. Sarsgaard, whose glazed-over eyes and unapproachably sullen facial expressions make for instant creepiness, somehow makes our young antagonist giggle and hiccup over his presence. These unlikely advances are less realistic than a bombastic world created by Frank Miller.
Jenny doesn’t necessarily trust David until he brings her out to intellectual drinking events where people gab about art and film, drink martinis, and maul each other with pretentious one-liners. And because Jenny loves France, new wave cinema, and foppish looking men who look like Alain Delon, her mind is clouded with the haze of cigarette smoke and wafting music; she doesn’t care about David’s ulterior motives, and instead chooses to prance around, with blinders made out of champagne bottles, as she enjoys a free ride of ritzy hotels and expensive froufrou dinners.
As one might expect when eating gobs of imported chocolate and throwing down vials of alcohol, Jenny’s grades begin to do a nosedive. The once bookworm and diligent academic standout is now an impetuous lush whose sole goal is to skip the streets of France. At least that’s what her teacher, the ornery but well meaning Miss Stubbs (Olivia Williams, who huffs and sighs throughout the entire movie) thinks.
The whole movie gets a little long at the tooth in points, with repetitious scenes of Sarsgaard leering and Mulligan vehemently clutching at her books. I am, in the very least, happy that Sarsgaard’s accent was passable enough to sound like he was actually from England. Prior attempts at accents, such as The Skeleton Key, where Sarsgaard tried his luck with a Louisiana drawl, sounded instead like he was a valley girl crossed with a South Vietnamese immigrant.
Despite Jenny – an obvious ingénue in the story – limping like a wounded duck, you’re never really that concerned with her well being; no matter how many times she gets into faux arguments with her older suitor. The film perpetuates this supposed drama, but, even with all of the episodic theatrics, you are painfully aware that the director wont let our protagonist ruin her life in the end of the film.
The style of the movie, with England’s ashy skies and damp streets, is extremely indicative of the droll, unenthusiastic approach that the film has. Scherfig, knowing that the story has been done a thousand times over, barely does anything to make the story seem fresh or interesting; almost as if giving up with a better strategy. The payoff is too expected, even during the opening credits, to hold interest. I only wish that An Education didn’t dock so prematurely without traversing more adventurous waters, especially with such an amazing talent as Mulligan at the wheel.