(out of 5)
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a top-flight student in a 1961 London high school whose prospects for Oxford are incredibly bright. Even more exciting, a handsome older man (Peter Sarsgaard, doing a mostly passable British accent) has taken her under his wing, insistent on illuminating her on the finer aspects of the social world and introducing her to his equally outgoing and attractive friends Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike. Jenny begins to wonder if it is even worth working so hard at becoming educated and accomplished when everything leads to boredom anyway: after all, everyone grows old and dies, but not everyone gets weekends in Paris and evenings spent dancing with charming socialites. Sarsgaard’s personality is a hopelessly attractive one that completely takes over this young woman and her well-meaning parents (Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour), and she loves the way he is able to manipulate anyone to his desires until she starts to wonder just how much she figures into his schemes. This exquisitely rendered film is blessed by an excellent screenplay by Nick Hornby, who does coming-of-age like no one’s business, delicate direction by Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) and a superb feeling for the period. Where it really succeeds is in how well it makes Jenny’s voyage beyond her confines seem so attractive; it’s usually very difficult to watch a character behave like an idiot on purpose, but Sarsgaard and his troupe’s little world of reckless fun and snazzy cocktail dresses are so incredibly dazzling that even an ability to see the logical conclusion to their Pinocchio’s island doesn’t prevent you wanting the protagonist to indulge herself. The film ends rather weakly, but this is a small concession given that the energy is electrifying throughout and the performances, including small bits by Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams and Sally Hawkins, are fantastic. Molina is particularly grand as the blustering father who wants his daughter to succeed but constantly worries about paying for it, while Seymour continues her marked ability to bring something extra to every role she plays.
Directed by Lone Scherfig
Cinematography by John de Borman
Music by Paul Englishby
Production Design by Andrew McAlpine
Costume Design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Film Editing by Barney Pilling