The screenplay was written by Nick Hornby on the basis of a memoir, which was promising, because honestly, while I enjoy Nick Hornby's books, the movie versions are almost always better. There's just something made for movies about his take on the world. Furthermore, while he's great at setting up situations, his novels almost always fizzle at the end, because he doesn't quite know how to wrap them up. Curiously enough, the ending of this movie was also kind of disappointing, but for a different reason. (I will try to avoid spoilers, but there are bound to be some, kinda, so be forewarned)
Of course I was absolutely enthralled to see a movie about a clever, wonderful young woman who is unabashedly nerdy but also eager for adventure. It almost - but not really - made me want to be a teenager again. I loved the movie for the way it portrayed her burgeoning sexuality in appreciative, rather than paranoiac terms. I applauded it for portraying some of the problems connected to a relationship between an older man and a younger woman without falling prey to the usual predatory cliches. I was particularly taken with the way it dealt with her relationship with her parents. There's a really impressive moment towards the end where her parents chastise her for the mess she's gotten herself into, and she turns on them - "What about you? Schoolgirls are taken advantage of all the time, but you allowed yourselves to be taken in as well!" While her father's tearful, class-based excuse is a bit thin, his gentle rebuke - "He wasn't what he said he was, indeed - but he also wasn't what YOU said he was" was a really eloquent portrayal of the way that teenagers betray their parents.
Although the main character was played absolutely perfectly by Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard also deserves accolades for his brilliant rendition of the older man character. Charming, lovable, and just barely sleazy - it was absolutely masterful. I really don't know that anyone else could have pulled it off.
I was perhaps slightly disappointed by the way that the movie ultimately didn't answer the girl's question - what's the point of studying literature? - in a fully satisfying way. Her claim is that she wants to have FUN, and school is difficult and boring and ultimately leads to a boring career so who cares. The movie kind of implies that, well, you need a job because it gives you independence and it can ultimately be satisfying in a kind of self-realization sort of way. Fair enough, but couldn't we have a bit on how it is a beautiful thing in and of itself? Also, as mentioned before, the ending, where she basically reclaims her virginity and innocence, was extremely distressing, and seemed to go against the whole point of the film.
Still though, an absolutely charming, winsome movie. Though I might just be damn near the ideal target audience for it, so bear that in mind should you choose to see it.