Several years ago, at the peak of the backlash against the movie Sideways, A. O. Scott wrote an essay for the New York Times in which he argued that critics overpraised the movie largely because the average critic is a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man all too eager to buy into a story about a schlubby, geeky, middle-aged man who wins the heart of the luminous Virginia Madsen. I’ve heard similar insinuations about An Education, in which the luminous Carey Mulligan falls for a man nearly twice her age, but though I understood where Scott was coming from with regard to Sideways, the sneer at An Education mystifies me. The movie is not about the older man’s fantasy of seducing the younger woman; it’s about the younger woman’s fantasy of being seduced by the older man. If it flatters anyone, it’s not schlubby, middle-aged geeks but artsy, awkward young women who have more book-learning than life experience but who want desperately to change that. And yet An Education is not itself naïve. An elegant coming-of-age story, with a rare female protagonist, it walks the line between rosiness and darkness with grace and insight and a big heart.