Rita is Simply Lovable
Michael Caine once said that "Educating Rita" was the last good movie he was in before he mentally retired and Michael Caine is certainly on great form. In fact Michael Caine's performance in "Educating Rita" is probably my favourite performance from the acting legend, yet he is out shone by Julie Walters who at the time was making her movie debut. You see it is Julie Walters who makes us laugh through not only what she says but how she says and it is Walters who makes us smile through her facial expressions, yet we are touched by the emotion as life hits her hard. And as such whilst Caine gives one of his best performances it is Walters who makes the movie and is why that anyone who thinks they could remake "Educating Rita" should think again because you can't manufacture what Julie Walters does in this movie to make it so good.
With her husband Denny (Malcolm Douglas) wanting to have children Rita (Julie Walters - Mamma Mia!) decides to enrol in an open university course which brings her to Professor Frank (Michael Caine - Deathtrap) who due to his lack of self belief takes solace in drink rather than writing. Determined to get an education before succumbing to pressure Rita refuses to give up and forms a close friendship with Frank who feels invigorated by Rita's enthusiasm and uneducated honesty. But as Rita becomes more educated it leads to issues in her relationships.
One of the joys of "Educating Rita" is that this is a movie which works on two levels, you can enjoy it as being simply a fun, charming movie or embrace the depth of the characters evolving and facing their wants. As such at the simplest level "Educating Rita" is this fun story of Susan, who chooses to call herself Rita and wants to get herself some education before succumbing to marital pressure and having children. As such we watch the talkative Rita meet her Open University professor and despite his resistance about teaching her is overcome by this bubbly person who whilst lacking education and confidence has this charisma about her.
And so we watch as over a period of time Rita become more and more educated whilst becoming friends with Professor Frank, he likes her openness and ability to tell it as it is as well as her simple enthusiasm. And as such we have this fun friendship full of great laughs as we hear some of Rita's logic, theories and anything else she spouts about. But we also have the emotional undercurrent as her need to do something with her life before having children causes heartache as do other events.
On the other hand "Educating Rita" is a movie with depth as it explores elements of "Control". In the case of Rita her desire to get an education is part out of control, it allows her to do something that her husband Denny can't control and in doing so give her knowledge, choice and a freedom. But as we watch Rita gain control as her relationship with her husband struggles she comes under another control that of Frank as he enjoys teaching her and her need for him to teach. Without going in to too much depth when Rita returns from summer school having blossomed into a confident and educated woman it frightens Frank because she is no longer dependant on him and so he has lost control. There is an element of need which runs alongside this control as Frank struggles as Rita blossoms but it makes a movie which as I said works simply as entertainment but also a movie with depth.
Now credit where it is due and Willy Russell's writing is spectacular, the lines he has written for the character of Rita are brilliant bordering on the comically genius. But why these words stay funny is because of Julie Walters who creates the most amazing character, a stereotypical talkative Liverpudlian woman but one who makes us smile, makes us care for and even fall in love with. She is fun, enthusiastic and simply an honest breath of fresh air who says it as it is with a touch of self depreciating humour. And between the delivery of Russell's great lines and Walter's facial expressions it is impossible not to love Rita. And you have to feel for Michael Caine because he is brilliant as Frank the Professor who lacks self belief, but he is outshone by Julie Walters. Although you get a sense that when Frank bursts into a smile and laugh as he speaks to Rita much of that was genuine with Michael Caine enjoying working with the funny Walters.
What this all boils down to is that "Educating Rita" is a brilliant movie which works as both simple entertainment but also a movie with depth. But it is Julie Walter's who makes it so good because she delivers the comedy in Willy Russell's writing and works brilliantly with Michael Caine.