I’ve been very against type this awards season. Even for me. I’ll be concluding my year in review picks soon and you can already see they’re different from the usual awards’ pick, and since most people seem to agree that (for the most part) the awards’ picks are the right picks I’m pretty much out on a limb. Still, if there’s one of the main picks I can get completely on board with, it’s this one,
#11 Carey Mulligan in An Education (2009)
After my pandering reviews of An Education someone asked why I liked Carey’s performance so much. I couldn’t come up with an answer. She is, after all, on my list of favourite performances this decade…but still…I can’t encapsulate it. I like Meryl’s because she’s subtle, Catherine because she’s fearless, I admire Julia’s tenacity and on and on. But, I can’t pin down my appreciation of Carey’s Jenny down to a particular x factor. If pushed, the biggest compliment I can pay her is that I feel as if I’ve known Jenny for years. Carey’s performance comes forth in the little things, like with the people you know. You don’t think of your friends in terms of good or evil, it’s the little things – and it’s the same with Jenny. It’s like a moment early on: Graham’s appearance at that catastrophic tea party. Scherfig realises the talent on her hand and even at moments that are seemingly inopportune moments the camera focuses on her. When Graham says “I’ll probably take a year off, do a bit of travelling” – the wince on Carey’s face, almost imperceptible, is beautiful moment from hers. Or earlier, as the stupid boys Graham at the Youth Orchestra her withering glance at them is not accidental but not exaggerated
The challenge that Carey is faced with is to balance Jenny’s maturity (scholastically) against her immaturity on the more worldly aspects of life. She is overwhelmed by David. Notice how her face lights up as she meets him (for the second time) on the road. I love how thrown she is when he enquires about supper – “The trouble is, we’ll already have eaten”. I love the juvenility of her line reading hair, regardless of how we perceive David to be (the best of us probably no he’s no good from the inception) Carey sells Jenny’s infatuation with him, and she makes it so fluid that we don’t doubt that this was the same young lady who was just “…I’m going to smoke and listen to Jacques Brel and wear black…” I say it all the time, but I love it when an actor can convince us of the unsaid. When we’re so under their spell that we believe we can hear their thoughts – that’s when the performance becomes convincing for me, and that’s what Carey does.
The pivotal scene opposite Emma Thompson comes up so often in conversations about Carey that the goodness of it has become somewhat incidental – but it isn’t. It’s not that Jenny has suddenly become fearless, but it’s a slow build-up as she realises that Mrs. Walters – even – is not as imposing as she seems. Her reading of “And you’re aware, I suppose, that our lord was Jewish” is slow and deliberate, as if she now realises who she’s dealing with. Of course in a year of so many great performances that other monologue is the one everyone’s remembering, but you know where my allegiances lie. Every time she reaches “there’s no life or colour in it or fun in it.” I pause to think, it’s not just lines but true feelings. Of course her sincerity here only makes the actual end culmination more unfortunate. It’s the reason that I like the film so much. It seems so common from a distance, but it’s not glib but completely sincere. The film is completely Carey’s and even the moments that are not truly hers – like Alfred’s confession – still focus on her. Her flood of tears is as moving as his poignant ‘confession’.
But I’m not saying anything new here, you know that I am smitten with Carey’s Jenny. But what say you? Worthy of a spot in the top 15 or no?