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After John’s reveal of his love for An Education, I figured I’d get the discussion going on one of the apparently few films this year where there’s at least some disagreement in our little group.  To first set the record straight, I didn’t hate the movie.  The cast, for starters, is pretty great.  Has a Bond girl, so that’s good.  Dominic Cooper lets me break out the Starter for Ten tag.  Olivia Williams lets me note that this season of Dollhouse has been really really strong.  But perhaps more to the point, Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard are both simply fantastic in their roles.  And Carey Mulligan, well, I defy anyone to not fall madly in love with her.

My problem with the film is that I don’t understand why it was a story that needed to be told.  The story is relatively simple without any particularly meaningful ending.  The dialogue, while crisp, isn’t memorable.  I’m not suggesting the movie shouldn’t have been made, rather that it didn’t leave me with any lasting impression.

Down the road, if I remember anything from An Education, it will be the cast.  I might recall not disliking the film, I suppose.  But I’m already left with a sort of vague indifference; I liked the movie because I like watching movies.  The script didn’t actively put me off the film, but it didn’t draw me in, either.  (But it is OK, Nick Hornby.  We are still tight.)

I don’t often get a chance to say it, but: John, you are absolutely right.  Don’t let it go to your head.  To briefly summarize, The Duchess is a conventional costume drama.  Read John’s post for further details on that front, there’s no point in me repeating what he said, but suffice it to say that if the spoof movies (e.g. Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans, Dance Flick) ever get around to doing these type of movies, they probably could just watch this one and do a pretty job on the genre.  I agree that The Duchess could have taken a number of potentially interesting different tacks, but instead decided to play the game as straight as possible.  Which I guess is good if you like your movies as low risk/low reward as possible.

I suppose I should come up with a few original points, huh?  Let’s see.  The movie co-stars Hayley Atwell, who took 2008 as the year to tackle the incredibly specific niche of “The Other Woman In Mostly Failed Oscarbaiting Costume Dramas” as she also fielded that role in Brideshead Revisited.  She’s rather fetching in both films, I thought.  But maybe more importantly, her characters generally added some flavor to the movies, no small feat given the general blandness of the two films.  Indeed, I could see the argument being made that The Duchess could have been more interesting had it focused on her character rather than Knightley’s.

The late, great Fire Joe Morgan blog had this thing about working food metaphors into their posts, so they could add the “food metaphor” tag.  I’m beginning to think I do the same with Starter For Ten.  But surely it is no coincidence that James McAvoy followed starring in that with having a doomed romance with Keira Knightley in Atonement and here Ms. Knightley has doomed romance with Dominic Cooper…who co-starred as McAvoy’s best friend in Starter For Ten.  Ha!  To me, Cooper’s facial features have a certain leonine quality which creep me out a bit, so maybe it isn’t surprising he keeps showing up in these third fiddle roles, but he sure seems to be getting some plum ones (see Mamma Mia!)

Otherwise, the film probably ended up with the Oscar nominations it deserved (Art Direction and Costume Design).  I’m a big Ralph Fiennes fan, and I did think he was pretty great here as the cold husband who just wants a male heir (and to be fair, he was promised Knightley would be good at pumping out a male baby, can you really blame the guy for wanting a contract honored?), but I don’t think he was snubbed, really.  I also like Keira Knightley, sure because she’s breathtakingly pretty, but also because she has actual range.  I’m not advocating Bend It Like Beckham 2, necessarily, but I hope she can add some more non-period films to her slate, maybe even something on the lighter side.

June 2020