WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KIDS TODAY: Reviews of An Education and La Mission

An Education, the film based on the memoir by Lynn Barber about her growing up and being deflowered in London in the 1960’s, is like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but without Brodie (or at least the romantic life force of that character, here replaced with the more down to earth Miss Stubbs—even her name says it all). Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, who, like the girls in …Brodie is being highly educated, though it’s a bit unclear why since all they are expected to do is get married. Jenny wants to experience life; her conservative father (played with incredible drollness by Alfred Molina) doesn’t understand what there is about life that is worth experiencing. Jenny meets David (played by Peter Sarsgaard with a remarkable British accent), a handsome young man who introduces her to culture and dog racing and takes her to Paris, whereupon he takes her virginity. She then finds out he’s married and with her tail between her legs, she crawls back to the girl’s school she dropped out of and begs to be let back in (though it’s a little unclear how she did it). There is something a little off here. Theoretically, she’s supposed to have learned her lesson, but it’s unclear what that lesson is: not experience life because it might break your heart? Jenny is right in that what she learned through David is every bit as educational as what she was being taught in school (actually, more so). It’s not her fault he was married; if he wasn’t and she had gone off with him and lived happily ever after, traveling the world, going to concerts and museums, collecting art, would the lesson be to drop out of school and experience life? But no matter. This is still a wonderful film with an incredibly witty and sharp script by Nick (About a Boy) Hornby. Mulligan is pitch perfect as Jenny, a joy to behold. The whole movie, in fact, is a joy to behold.

La Mission is a very sincere, very earnest film, one of those movies described as having its heart in the right place. Benjamin Bratt plays Che Rivera, a very macho Hispanic with very conservative macho values living in a very macho section of San Francisco. He’s very macho, an ex-convict, now covered with tattoos and working on cars he takes low riding once a week. Che’s life starts to fall apart when he finds out Jesse, his straight A son, is gay. They have fisticuffs and Che throws him out of the house. Slowly, the two find their way back to each other, but not until Jesse is shot by some gang bangers, Che threatens Jesse’s lover and Jesse leaves for Los Angeles to go to college. There’s nothing wrong with the movie. As I said, it’s very sincere, as sincere as Che is macho. And though the story takes place within a subset of America, its theme is universal. Of course, that’s also one of the problems. It’s so universal, it’s basically no different than the hundreds of other films that have come before it with the same topic and structured according to the same formula. The background may be different, but everything else is incredibly familiar. The structure is also a bit lopsided. So much of the story is devoted to Che, that Jesse’s story gets lost here and there and doesn’t seem to exist on its own but only to reveal Che’s character. There’s one scene that has potential, but doesn’t go there. When Che comes looking for Jesse who left the hospital after Che threatened Jesse’s lover (a very white and non-Hisptanic lover), Jesse goes to stay with his lover in the very upper middle class house of the lover’s very white parents. Che arrives and sees two Hispanic workers taking care of the garden. Visually this has tons to say, none of which the script (by the director Peter Bratt) explores. There is actually something a little uncomfortable in the author saying that upper middle class whites would have no problem with their son’s gay lover coming from a working class Hispanic background, but Bratt’s character can’t even accept his son being gay. In the end, the strongest aspect of the movie is the director’s success at creating the milieu of the characters. But the movie Quinceanera is more successful covering some of the some themes and ideas.

So tell me what you think.

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