Friday, September 11, 2009

TIFF 2009 reviews: An Education

It's my birthday, and after nodding off in front of a Buffy DVD upon arriving home from the opening night of the film festival, I've been awake since four. Ain't insomnia a hoot? Le sigh. So thus my reports begin, and I lead off with battling omens. On one hand, I darted into the washroom before grabbing my seat for Lone Scherfig's An Education and upon leaving the stall caught my favorite dress shirt on the door latch and with a horrifying riiiiiipppp it was torn from waist to armpit. On the other hand, my TIFF '09 experience began with a warm and wonderful human comedy filled with terrific music and performances, the kind of movie that leaves you with a goofy smile on your face but without the bitter aftertaste that one often gets from nostalgia pieces.

Part of the Special Presentations program, the movie is Scherfig's fourth, the first I've seen of hers, and is helmed with the sure and classy hand that seems to be the trademark of Nick Hornby adaptations (see: Stephen Frears, Chris Weitz). Hornby's the reason I went at all, to be honest; I saw his name as screenwriter and went "Sold!" I'd been a fan of the film version of High Fidelity for ages, thought it was one of the best movies of 2000 and the decade, but never got around to actually reading the book until a couple of years ago. It was one of those novels that, fifteen pages in, I realized I'd be burning through the author's entire oeuvre immediately, which I subsequently did. An Education is actually an adaptation; during the Q&A Hornby explained that after Fever Pitch he has no interest in adapting any more of his own work as it involves,as he put it, "unwriting" something he's spent years writing, removing three quarters of his own work to fit the confines of a screenplay. Fair 'nuff. I'm not sure how many more adaptations we'll see of his work...High Fidelity and About A Boy are pretty straightforward, but How To Be Good and A Long Way Down seem somewhat unfilmable.

Anyway, not much to say about the film beyond sweeping admiration for the cast and the casting director who pulled this astonishing group together. Nobody, from a flawlessly-accented Peter Sarsgaard to Alfred Molina, who tends to walk off with the biggest laughs in all of his scenes, to the screen-siezing cameos by the likes of Emma Thompson (with her funniest deadpan ever) and Sally Hawkins (whom I'm still convinced was robbed of an Oscar nod for Happy-Go-Lucky), ever sets a foot wrong. And then of course there's the masterful star-making turn by one Carey Mulligan, who walks off with the audience's hearts and sympathies within moments of stepping onscreen. Mulligan had a small role in the brilliant adaptation of Pride and Prejudice a few years back (alongside Rosamund Pike, who also deserves credit in this movie for demolishing all of her scenes with a hilarious dumb blonde act) and starred in one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes but is now officially a Screen Presence To Watch. It's worrisome that she's reportedly dating Shia LeBeouf, it's a warning sign that she's about to get sucked into the H'wood tabloid mill, but then she does come across as smart enough to avoid those pitfalls.

So...terrific movie, fun and well-paced Q&A, and despite the draft from my expired shirt, a good start to the festival. Two documentaries today and a couple more onscreen trips to Britain tomorrow. And we're off...

(star ratings out of four in honour, as usual, of Roger Ebert, who's in town for the fest, and whose TIFF blog is essential reading every September)

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