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Sixteen-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is attending school, preparing for her A-levels and hoping to go to Oxford. One day, she meets an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), who charms her into a romance, distracting from her schoolwork. David introduces her to a whole new world out of her little suburb--a world of nightclubs, auctions for beautiful paintings, racing, and romance. Jenny soon has to make a choice between the academic world she's always prepared for--and the world of fun.
But little does she know how much David is hiding...
- All That Glitters: Nearing the climax of the film, Jenny chooses to take the easy way out by dropping out of school and marrying David. However, it is revealed that David is already married, and he runs out on Jenny when she finds out.
- Ascended Fangirl: When David takes Jenny to Paris.
- Beneath the Mask
- Beta Couple: Helen and Danny.
- Bittersweet Ending/Earn Your Happy Ending: David turns out to be a lying scumbag, and Jenny finds herself without her test results and without an admittance letter to Oxford. She chooses to work hard to get there despite it all, gets accepted, and moves on to what looks like a pleasant and accomplished life.
- Brainy Brunette Jenny is a genuine smart cookie. This is a contrast to Dumb Blonde Helen.
- Break the Cutie
- Bridal Carry: David and Jenny shortly before she gives him her virginity.
- Bumbling Dad: Just a tad bit.
- Butt Monkey: Graham, whom Jenny's father refers to as a "wandering Jew" (whether he's actually a Jew is beside the point). Overlaps with The Woobie.
- The Charmer/Chivalrous Pervert: David has signs of both.
- Chekhov's Classroom: The discussions of Jane Eyre in Jenny's English class.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- David's letters in the glove compartment of his car are shown several times before their importance is revealed.
- David helps a black family move into an apartment. Jenny sees an old woman looking out of the window. Both are plot-relevant.
- Christmas Cake: Miss Stubbs. And Jenny rubs her face in it.
- Coming of Age Story
- Contrived Coincidence: Jenny meeting David. Not so much when it's revealed he actually lives down the street from her.
- Dance of Romance: David and Jenny waltzing in the street and later in Paris.
- Did Not Get the Girl
- Dogged Nice Guy: Graham.
- Double Entendre: When Jenny expresses an interest in seeing France, David replies that he'd love to take her, and there's "so much" he wants her to see. Cue Danny and Helen exchanging an uncomfortable glance.
- Dumb Blonde: Helen.
- Education Papa
- Expository Hairstyle Change: Jenny wears her hair in sophisticated updos when she's with David and his friends, but goes back to her usual girlish hairstyle--representing the fact that for all her attempts at seeming grown-up, that she is still really a child--both when she's at home or at school, and once she discovers his deception and the relationship ends.
- Foreshadowing: Frequent discussion of Jane Eyre in Jenny's English class. Mr. Rochester was keeping his wife a secret as well.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Within roughly weeks (if not months), David pops the question to Jenny.
- Gratuitous French: Used often by Jenny, out of the blue and lampshaded bluntly by Helen:
Helen: You have a French conversation teacher? Is that why you suddenly speak French? For no reason?
- Green-Eyed Monster: David claims Danny is this when he doesn't seem too pleased by Jenny's engagement to David; Danny just didn't want Jenny to get hurt because both Helen and he knew that David was already married.
- Hard Work Montage
- Horrible Judge of Character: Even after learning of David's shady business, Jenny continues to be strung along by David until the climax.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Jenny is attracted to David and his adventurous life, full of concerts, jazz music, and parties, in comparison to her apparent "boring" life, full of attending school, studying for Oxford, and reading Latin.
- Ironic Echo: Of sorts. David takes Jenny to Paris, a place she has always wanted to go to, as she loves French books, films, and music. At the end of the film, Jenny's boyfriend said he wants to take her to Paris, and Jenny narrates that she acted surprised, as if she had never been there before.
- Jewish and Nerdy/Nice Jewish Boy: Graham. That is, if he's really Jewish.
- Karma Houdini: David.
- Kick the Dog: David runs out on Jenny after she discovers he's married instead of helping her face her parents and telling them the truth of his deceit. To make matters worse, Jenny is unable to return to her school (and therefore cannot get into Oxford), and has basically lost almost everything because of David--or rather, because of herself.
- Leitmotif: A recurring theme played throughout the film plays hints to David and his schemes.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: David is a gender-flipped version for Jenny. Later deconstructed, when it turns out that David is not all that he seems.
- May-December Romance
- Moment Killer: The banana.
- Mood Whiplash: Several scenes. Often, whenever the music changes tone is a hint to David's shady schemes.
- Motive Decay: An in-universe example. Jenny wants to attend Oxford so that she can study and read English. After being exposed to David and his much more attractive life (and at the approval of her parents), Jenny gives this up to marry David, as he can already give her the life she has always wanted. This decision comes back to bite her.
- My God, What Have I Done?: When Jenny discovers that David is a married man, she is devastated, as she dropped out of school and didn't take her A-levels, to be with him.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The segment that the trailer showed of Emma Thompson's character made her seem like a rather stern but not unkind mentor--"You must think I'm a ruined woman." "Oh, no. You're not a woman." Not so in the actual movie.
- The Not-Secret: Rather, they didn't even try to keep it a secret. Seriously, when your headmistress knows not only that you are planning on losing your virginity, but when, to whom, and roughly where, you are doing something very wrong.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: While Jenny and Danny are dancing, they have a discussion about art. Or at least, this is what Jenny thinks. Danny is really subtly warning Jenny that David isn't what he seems.
- Overprotective Dad: Jenny's dad obviously dislikes Jenny's suitor Graham and is initially a bit wary of David, but David's charm easily persuades him.
- Plot-Sensitive Snooping Skills
- Plucky Girl
- The Reveal: David is married.
- Sorry I Left the BGM On: Whenever a French song plays in the background, it's most likely this.
- Spoiled Sweet: Though Helen can be quite blunt at times, she becomes fast friends with Jenny and is relatively nice to her.
- Stalker with a Crush: Assumed, but not intended. In the final scene with Jenny and her new boyfriend biking around the Oxford campus, David's car can be seen parked on the side of the street. This is remnant from the longer original ending in which David tries to win Jenny back. Carey Mulligan and director Lone Scherfig joke on the DVD commentary that only a few people actually catch this on the first viewing and those who do catch it assume that David has resorted to stalking her.
- Those Two Guys: Jenny's friends, Hattie and Tina. They're a great Greek Chorus for Jenny's ego, hanging on every detail of her romance, but then either she dumps them or they dump her because they're never seen again. Though, it might be because she dropped out of school, so it wasn't necessary for them to be seen again.
- A deleted scene would have shown Jenny apologizing to them for being a bad friend after The Reveal.
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness
- Uptight Loves Wild: That's Jenny and David's relationship at first.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Based on the memoir of the same name by British journalist Lynn Barber.
- What The Hell Hero?:
- Jenny pulls this twice of David for his shady business (but she gets over it quickly) and when she finds out about his wife; she also pulls this on Danny, who always knew about the latter. Danny counters this by reminding Jenny that she didn't think too much of their shady business either.
- Jenny's teacher and headmistress both question Jenny on her May-December Romance on more than one occasion. And Jenny pushes right back.
- Wise Beyond Her Years: Jenny seems pretty sure that she's this. She really isn't. And she lampshades it in this exchange with Miss Stubbs:
Miss Stubbs: You sound very old and wise.