Saturday, October 31, 2009
Rushed out to see this movie that I had long anticipated for no other reason than hearing Peter Sarsgaard's voice --- with an English accent, no less.
I didn't have huge expectations for the movie itself and was therefore pleasantly rewarded. All the critical praise on Carey Mulligan is amply deserved as she managed a delicately perfect balance between youthful naivete and intelligence. Young people are not stupid, they are merely inexperienced --- inexperienced adults can be stupid too, after all. She is constantly compared to Audrey Hepburn, but really this is much better than any of the silly girlish fantasies Hepburn sold to the public.
What made the movie work is not necessarily this morality tale of growing up, but the kindly and sensitive hearts of Lone Scherfig and Nick Hornby, who directed and wrote the script, respectively. Hornby's novel from a married woman's point of view, How to Be Good, was hardly a success, but here he has better raw material: Lynn Barber's memoir that he, supposedly, faithfully adapted. Perhaps more critical is the Danish director Lone Scherfig, who deftly handled the story with honest, while never mistaken honesty with cynicism. It does take a woman to keep the tone grounded in impeccable truth.
Why am I so sure it is true? Because in so many ways Jenny reminds me of myself, except that I was much less precocious and smart than she. The restless boredom and wide-eyed eagerness for "the real world" are exactly the same at 17 (and again at 25). I was that girl, and even my parents are similarly provincial and naive. I recognize so much in her, and understand exactly.
An under-estimated accomplishment of the movie, which has been lost in many reviews, is how precisely drawn the other characters are. Despite the limelight on the heroine Jenny, everyone else (from the old maid teacher to David's rogue friend) was delicately painted with rich details and impeccable precision. The movie does not stray into exposition about any of them, but I can pick up enough clues to understand the back story of every one of them. These are surprisingly realistic characters, each with his or her own history and psychology that determine their current life and behavior. They don't exist to serve the purpose of teaching Jenny a moral lesson. They are real people. (Again, good movies/stories have characters that live beyond and outside the frame of the story itself.) I marvel at the economy of their portrayal with little reliance on cliches. The writer and director rightly leave out most of their stories because the movie must stick to Jenny's point of view --- the schoolgirl hasn't got the experience to see through their human frailty. But we do. At least I do, now that I am no longer 17, or 25.
The ending was inevitably cut short and felt simplistic because it would take another movie or two to tell the rest of the journey into womanhood. I am now intrigued by Barber's memoir.
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