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In London, twenty-seven year-old hairdresser Rita decides to complete her basic education before having children as desired by her husband Denny. She joins a literature course in an open university and is tutored by the middle-aged Dr. Frank Bryant, an alcoholic and debauched professor from the upper-class whose life has left him emotionally drained, without self-esteem. Frank lives with Julia, who's also a professor, and have a loveless marriage; Julia has a love affair with the Dean Brian. Rita's humor and determination to improve herself is contagious; she gives motivation to Frank who helps prepare her for the exams to join the university, and be able to leave Denny. Will she succeed in the exams?Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This wonderfully engaging and thought provoking movie far surpassed my expectations. It's an unusual variation on the old teacher / student story but with a mature twist that asks the viewer the question... Just which one of this pair is doing the teaching here, and exactly what is the subject?
Dr. Frank Bryant is an older, jaded, alcoholic college English professor. He's weary of the snobbish academic world, which he mocks with contempt, and weary of dissecting meaning out of literature for the pretentious but unenthusiastic students in his classes. He's assigned to tutor Rita, a feisty, uneducated Liverpool hairdresser / housewife in her mid 20's, who has enrolled in a college class to improve her language skills and also really to develop her mind. Frank finds Rita literally a breath of fresh air, chuckling at her amusing definition of the word 'assonance' and uncharacteristically moved by her candor, her respect for education, her bubbling eagerness to learn and develop. Frank actually prefers that she remain exactly as she is, fearing she'll come to resemble the pompous snobs to which he's grown all too accustomed, walking the halls of academia all around him.
Both teacher and student here already have 'significant others'. Frank is romantically involved with another teacher, Julia, who is carrying on an affair literally under his nose, so his personal life is in equivalent shambles to his professional situation. Rita is married to the uneducated, working class Denny, who's eager to start a family. She is secretly taking birth control pills, wanting to explore her own and life's possibilities before having children. Obviously conflict emerges here between this couple, with Denny actually quite a sympathetic character. He's not the villain of the piece at all (from my viewpoint), even though he does burn Rita's books, certainly not something to applaud. He just wants the simple things of life, obviously disapproving of his wife's educational endeavors for fear she'll grow away from him.
Michael Caine, in the role he was born to play, is completely convincing as the drunken, disillusioned Frank, who cannot get through his day without a drink. Julie Walters is equally perfect as Rita...first the earlier blonde, uneducated but academically keen housewife / hairdresser, and later the sophisticated woman into which she's transformed.
The dialogue is witty, and the rich relationship that develops between Frank and Rita compelling. No sex scenes here, just discussions of literature and mainly of life. These are two memorable characters that will truly engage your concern. After some additional courses abroad, Rita undergoes an amazing Pygmalion style metamorphosis in admittedly, as some have criticized, a rather unbelievably short time. She is transformed from the original naive, uneducated, working class housewife to a sophisticated literary critic...though her core, in my opinion, remains fundamentally unchanged.
As for the ending, I won't give it away. Will a May December romance emerge from all this tutelage as with that other Pygmalion pair, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, of My Fair Lady fame? Or will these two ultimately go their separate ways, each altered forever by the other's influence? Personally, the moving, emotional ending left me feeling satisfied that the screenwriters had done their job right. Don't miss this sparkling and intelligent movie which casts attitudes toward education in such a compelling light.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful.
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