Monday, October 28, 2013

Straying from the Party Line: Wonky Structure in An Education

This is going to sound weird, but this movie’s heroine actually has a lot in common with Tony Stark. Both combine a hard-charging intellectual curiosity about the world with a near-fatal level of passivity and naivety about people close by that are plotting against them.
  • Deviation #1: The first and third acts are each ten minutes long, leaving room for a massive 2nd act, and the heroine is incurious and passive throughout almost all of that 2nd act., not investigating big clues, and allowing herself to be duped.
  • The Potential Problem: In theory, we should get fed up with Jenny’s failure to investigate big clues to David’s duplicity. Even when the truth comes out, it’s because she’s looking for a cigarette in his glove compartment, not because of any intentional poking around.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, and I’m not sure why. This is the ultimate “execution dependent” script. The astoundingly good performances that director Lone Scherfig gets from Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike make a very unsurprising, low-key movie into something lively, captivating and moving. But that’s not to sell Nick Hornby’s amazing screenplay short. This isn’t a movie about what happens (we can guess almost immediately), but about how each failsafe fails along the way, and how it all feels. How do a very smart girl and her very careful parents fall into such a blatantly wrong situation? The dialogue is so smart and incisive that the thin, passive plot isn’t a problem: it just gives us a chance to get a much deeper understanding of the hidden intricacies of a relatively-typical situation.
And one more…
  • Deviation #2: The movie is no longer as compelling or ironic after the twist.
  • The Potential Problem: This should kill the third act.
  • Does the Movie Get Away With It? Yes, but only by cutting the third act to ribbons. They know we don’t want to suddenly watch a movie about studying Latin, so the whole third act “a long way to go and a short time to get there” sequence is reduced to one quick montage, ending in an acceptance letter. This works just fine. 
But wait, if you look at the script, you’ll find a significantly different third act.  Let’s look at that tomorrow when we do our Rulebook Casefile for this movie...

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