BY YONG SHU HOONG
WE ALL know about "the school of hard knocks".
That, of course, refers to practical experiences - hardship and disappointments included - that are dispensed (mostly without prejudice) in life, rather than lessons soaked up in a typical classroom.
Likewise, An Education, by Danish film-maker Lone Scherfig (who also directed Italian For Beginners), refers to "education" in every sense of the word.
In the film, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a bright 16-yearold schoolgirl who plays the cello, spouts French phrases and has a good grasp of art and culture.
Hell-bent on getting a place at Oxford University, she scores straight As for tests and assignments.
One rainy afternoon, she gets picked up at a bus stop by an older man, David (Peter Sarsgaard), who impresses her with his charisma and flashy car.
Naturally , a Mrs Robsinson/Henry Higgins-type relationship ensues.
Accompanied by pal Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his airhead girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike), David initiates Jenny into his high-society lifestyle - from partying at a glitzy nightclub to bidding at an art auction - opening her eyes to a world she never knew existed.
The deployment of appropriate songs, props and costumes heightens the romance and sense of nostalgia unfolding mostly in 1960s London, not to mention road trips through the English countryside and a weekend escapade to Paris.
Well-timed direction by Scherfig and a script crafted skilfully by novelist Nick Hornby, taking from Lynn Barber's memoir, help move the story along fluidly.
It's part drama, part commentary on the limited possibilities for female liberation in London in the early 1960s, noted Salon.
com, and the film captures it all in exquisite detail. Lead actress Mulligan, 24, is the new starlet to watch out for.
Her impressive performance has already attracted Oscar buzz, and some are hailing her as the new Audrey Hepburn. Aside from Sarsgaard, who's completely at ease as the Casanova with secrets to hide, other supporting actors also provide Mulligan with appropriate sparring for her character.
Olivia Williams plays a concerned teacher who tries to talk Jenny out of giving up her Oxford dreams, while Emma Thompson has a cameo appearance as the headmistress.
Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour are Jenny's parents, who get duped repeatedly by the ever- charming David into allowing their daughter to go out on dates and even accept his marriage proposal.
As one might expect, things don't work out between the couple, and Jenny has to find this out the hard way.
In the end, whether you consider this film romantic, humorous, tragic, or all of the above, you'll find that it's also a cautionary tale that asks hard questions about education and the place of women in society.
And, from witnessing Jenny's predicaments, we realise that, in our own pursuit of happiness, some shortcuts in life are just not worth the trouble.
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