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Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

  Directed by: Mike Newell
Written by: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ginnifer Goodwin, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Dominic West
Links: Mona Lisa Smile on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 6.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"One for the women-folk" - a review by pearly

Mona Lisa Smile is set at a finishing school for girls in the 1950s. The privileged girls who go to Wellesley College are intelligent and hard-working enough to go onto big careers - if that is indeed what they want to do with their lives. But in this day and age, most of the girls' foremost desire is to find the perfect man, marry him, and become a model housewife.

Enter Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), the new art history teacher at Wellesley. She is considered fairly radical - wanting her students to study such questionable art as Jackson Pollock and Picasso. She also brings her personality with her to class, opening up to the students more than any of the other teachers do. This leads to her acceptance by most of the students, but there are some students and fellow teachers who find her methods inappropriate. And are Katherine's intentions pure, or is she trying to force her own ideals onto her students?

These are the ideas explored with Mona Lisa Smile. The themes of women's liberation run throughout the film, and each student has her own opinion on the way her life should be run. Some of the students will not alter their position for any reason, others view Katherine's teachings as divine inspiration, and still others are forced to alter their positions when their lives do not turn out as well as they had hoped. And this is the thing that makes Mona Lisa Smile interesting: the individual stories of the women, and the circumstances that lead to their own personal decisions.

Yes, Mona Lisa Smile is sugary sweet, and while the whole film is not happy happy happy, the overall atmosphere is cheery. Style-wise, it reminded me of Far from Heaven (2002), and while this is not particularly surprising, given both are set in the 1950s, it is more than just the costuming that leads me to draw this comparison - it's a combination of mood, clothing and content.

Roberts is an interesting choice for the lead role; she doesn't seem perfectly at home as an art expert. She is ably supported by the four leading students: Kirsten Dunst as Betty, Katherine's fiery nemesis, Julia Stiles as Betty's best friend, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Katherine's number 1 fan, and lesser-known Ginnifer Goodwin as the least privileged of the girls. Most of these young lasses outshine Ms Roberts.

One other thing I must mention is that Tori Amos has a bit part as a singer at the school mixer, and contributes two songs to the soundtrack. She is amazingly well suited to playing a cabaret style singer in the 1950s (probably because of her long red tresses).

I guess as a whole, I enjoyed Mona Lisa Smile, but it did seem a little stereotyped and paint-by-the-numbers, which, if you've seen the film, is kinda ironic.

pearly gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 24 Feb 2004

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Reader comments

  1. thhis review rocked my soks off..thank you for the in depth description of shit all

    Rating given: 1

    A comment from aidan fullerw on Mon 26 Jun 2006 13:10 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 1.00 (1 rating)

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