Playing Mona Lisa (2000) Poster

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moviedude129 June 2003
I used to run a video store and this movie rarely got rented. It came on cable this afternoon and I didn't have anything else to do. I found the beginning of the film slow and rather predictable, but, as it got further into the story, I actually found myself hanging on the story, curious as to what could POSSIBLY happen next. I now find myself wondering why it never got rented in the store, because this was REALLY a good movie. I keep guessing if it was a romantic movie trying to be funny or a comedy trying to be romantic. The blend of both is what I actually enjoyed most about the film.

I have only seen one other movies with Alicia Witt, but I think I'm going to be looking for more of her. Elliott Gould and Marlo Thomas are a nice blend as her parents, too.
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After Splat
tedg8 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

There's double reflection here: two dimensions where the matter of the film reflects its manner.

The first is in the plot itself. Alicia Witt is an actress with a lot of the basic stuff that creates a career. She is better looking than the current crop of blondies, with enough acting talent to qualify. If Kate Hudson can garner attention, this woman should. Plus, she really does have mastery of one performing area -- the piano -- something that subsumes all of theater except mugging. This puts her far ahead ofthe pack by default.

She is in fact a woman in constant audition. `Is this the film that will make my career?' we know she is thinking throughout the production. Oddly, what she lacks is not talent or appeal, it is sheer commitment. Kirsten Dunst had it in `Vampire' and `Little Women.' Gwyneth in `Emma,' Reese in `Freeway.' Alicia herself had it with her hypnotizing appearance in `Dune.'

(She also was the fulcrum around which the entire cosmology of "Liebestraum" revolves.)

But just like her character, she goes all the way to the threshold and then stops. There are problems with the direction of this film, but you can see that she does only what the meek director asked of her. She doesn't overfill the role as a committed actress would. This film ends with us not knowing if she wins the competition (or alas, without even hearing her play). She may wake up and win the race to starlethood at some time to come.

There is one scene where she IS spellbinding, and predictably it involves her playing. She is practicing an amazing complex piece and talking to Fierstein at the same time. It reminded me of a scene in `Autumn Sonata' where two characters were similarly staged with one playing. Her playing has a comic tinge just as her lines do.

The second reflection concerns the director. This happens a lot: a film whose moral is one thing and the manner of presentation uses exactly the opposite philosophy. This idea, then play was born to be wild screwball. The Jewish chorus was supposed to be artificial, like the family in `The Big Hit.' The parties were supposed to be mythic, like `200 Cigarettes,' the friend Sabrina was supposed to be fantastic like Holly Golightly. The shifting affairs and deceits were supposed to be Shakespearean decorative comedy.

There's enough raw material here to make two comedies at least at the level of `Big Fat Wedding.' But it requires an edgy director. While making a film about commitment to the passion of the thing, he forgets to have passion himself.

Oh well, see it as prelude to Alicia's breakthrough. She'll get up after going splat. At least we hope so.

(Don't watch it for any of the familiar actors that appear. They are all as flat as they are told to be. There is an execrable `adults'-take-LSD-by-mistake bit.)

Ted's evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching
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Well-written and played out girl flick...
dwpollar20 April 2001
1st watched 4/21/2001 - 7 out of 10(Dir-Matthew Huffman): Well-written and played out girl flick that is very similar to the very popular TV series "Ally McBeal" in it's theme. A young girl trying to find her man is part of the movie, but it's also about her competing piano talent and how she shuffles her romantics wants or needs with her God-given talent. At times the movie seems confused about the direction it's going which is really not a problem because in real life we're never sure what direction everything is taking. A wide mixture of varied talents are involved in this picture from young(Alicia Witt) to old(Elliot Gould - who actually does one of his best jobs in a hard role as the mixed-up father. Funny, touching, and leaving us a good message as well in the end.
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Enjoyable film with great cast
hprill6 September 2001
"Playing Mona Lisa" is about the crucial point in your life when you're not any longer sure which direction you're heading. After graduation from music college, Claire, a gifted pianist, slightly loses it when her long-time boyfriend leaves her, her house is damaged in an earthquake and she has to move in with her slightly neurotic parents.

The movie, while having many refreshingly comic moments, is also quite serious in its theme, and deals remarkably well with Claire's attempts to get a new grip on her life. The plot-line is not too strong and is drifting along rather than developing; I don't see this as a problem, though, as it pretty much reflects both real life and Claire's lost sense of direction. Even in its darker moments, the movie retains an overall optimistic mood and never turns into a heavy problem movie; if you're looking for quick laughs or lots of action, however, this movie is not for you.

Lots of good acting from a great cast of characters. Alicia Witt is thoroughly enjoyable as Claire and guides her character remarkably through good times, bad times and mood swings. Brooke Langton and Johnny Galecki play along nicely as her very likeable friends. Great performances (as usual) from Elliot Gould as Claire's father and Harvey Fierstein as her piano teacher.

An overall quiet, but thoroughly enjoyable film which starts slowly and seriously grows on you after a while. 8/10.
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funny, sweet, charming
damiella7 January 2003
While it's tempting to dismiss this as just another chick flick with just another up-and-coming young adult actress, PLAYING MONA LISA is different in a lot of ways. For one thing, the writing is terrific. Characters are well-developed, their relationships are complex and engaging, and just about everyone in the film oozes charm (especially Alicia Witt, who is just terrific). For another thing, the film does not follow the traditional romantic comedy formula and still comes to a satisfying conclusion.

And this movie is also DAMN funny. One scene in particular, which involves drug use, is so hilarious. I laughed so hard my dog was giving me funny looks.

PLAYING MONA LISA is enjoyable from the first second to the last. Just go rent it already!
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Great romantic movie
darkangel-526 January 2005
It's a decent and well-made romantic piece. Good and believable story, great acting. I prefer romantic movies that are trying to remain realistic and that are not 'overdone' so they won't become cheesy and unwatchable. Playing Mona Lisa is not a landmark in movie history but a great effort and a really enjoyable piece.

What really makes this movie great is Alicia Witt, who's one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. She should get better roles in the future. Maybe she just have to change her agents. Alicia makes a believable character and even being a guy myself I constantly feel sympathy for her. I guess many guys dream about having a girlfriend like her character in the movie.
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Embarrassingly lame indie comedy
LilyDaleLady8 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Despite the presence of many "name" actors (Marlo Thomas, Elliot Gould, Harvey Fierstein, etc.) this is an embarrassing lame independent film that feels like a student project rather than a professional film. Apparently aiming to be a slice of life comedy, it falls very flat as most of the jokes are dated and extremely unfunny. The tone is very uneven and the setting -- contemporary San Francisco -- is poorly utilized.

"Playing Mona Lisa" is about a recent music conservatory grad, Claire Goldstein (Alicia Witt) is dumped by her boyfriend and goes into a tailspin of depression and bad luck. She's surrounded by "crazy" friends and family, including Harvey Fierstein as her gay piano teacher and parents Marlo Thomas and Elliot Gould. I can't give away any spoilers here because there aren't any -- nothing happens in the course of the film and none of Claire's problems or issues are resolved or even dealt with.

This is the kind of film that is written by someone who is either WAY out of touch with young people today -- someone well over 50 -- or someone from a foreign culture who has no idea how Americans live or act in the 90s. Claire -- a 21 year old college student -- apparently owns her own ROW HOUSE in SAN FRANCISCO...this would be virtually impossible unless her family were multi-millionaires as San Francisco is one of the most expensive housing markets in the US and Claire does not even have a job. Or maybe I have something with the multi-millionaire thing, because her parents live in a huge Victorian mansion on the banks of the San Francisco bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge (approx. value: $10 million plus).

If it's the filmmakers intent to show the life of a super wealthy princess, that's one thing. But this is supposed to be a story about a down-to-earth, regular girl with normal life problems and a goofy (but normal) family. What wacky planet does the director/screenwriter come from that she does not realize that virtually nobody lives this way? There isn't much of anywhere to go from a premise this completely detached from normality...humor derives from exaggerated real life situations we all can recognize, if you start with an absurd, unworldy premise then there isn't much of any place to go to.

There is plenty to laugh at and find humor in amongst young people in the late 20th century...if you had ever MET any of them. None of the 22 yr olds in "Playing Mona Lisa" have body piercings, tattoos, JOBS, college loans, computers or anything else that I associate with young people that age. In fact the whole tone of the movie seems to come from the early or mid-70s. There are a lot of marijuana and drug references, trying to be cool in a desperate way, and an excruciating scene where Claire's stuffy middle class parents "accidentally" get if the parents of 20-something kids would not themselves have grown up in the early of Woodstock and pot and rock music!!!!

This film has nothing whatever to say about contemporary young women, or the choices/problems that they face in life. It doesn't even have anything to say about the struggle that a classical music student would face in transitioning from music conservatory to professional career in one of the most ruthless and competitive fields of music.

The only remotely interesting thing to comment on here is that Alicia Witt -- who has no gift for comedy or dialogue and utterly fails to carry the film or charm us -- appears to actually be playing her own piano pieces. This is refreshing compared to the many other lame films out there where a talentless actor "fakes" playing. However, if she was selected for the role because of this talent, it was still a mistake. It takes some charisma and personality to head a film, and Ms. Witt is a blank slate.

This is a film to be avoided, even as a rental. Complete waste of your time.
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Playing Mona Lisa
P Adkins2 January 2003
I never even heard of this film... It just happen to be on last night. All-star cast drenched in good writing, & flooded with comedy! Lots of good points are made throughout the entire movie. Storyline is girl loves boy. Boy dumps girl. Girl must pick up the pieces & move on...? EVERY SINGLE ACTOR in this film will carry you through life's little problems in the most humorous way! (9)
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Tickling the ivories or tickling the funny bone, this film is zany but fun
Amy Adler29 May 2007
Claire (Alicia Witt) is having one of those months. A skilled pianist, she has failed to gain acceptance into a major piano competition, causing her sorrow. Her teacher and mentor (Harvey Fierstein) is sympathetic. But, then, in short order, her boyfriend dumps her unceremoniously and an earthquake ruins her San Francisco apartment, making it necessary to move back in with the folks. Ah, the family ties that bind and choke! Mother (Marlo Thomas) is trying her hand at cooking and offering unwelcome advice to her stricken daughter. Claire's father (Elliott Gould) is a having a midlife crisis and her overachieving sister is getting set to marry a stiff-shirt dentist, in coral and bisque, no less. As Claire is seeking to pull herself out of the blues, one bright spot emerges. She meets a good-looking fish merchant (Ivan Sergei). Will her life improve? This is one zany film, with a cast of characters and a script as offbeat as they come. Witt is luminous as the gifted pianist who runs into the year from hell. Thomas and Gould are terrific as the crazy parents and the rest of the cast is very nice, especially the gorgeous and charming Sergei. With some nice costumes, scenery, and photography, the film looks good and the San Francisco setting is lovely. Even so, the script is still the big winner here, being imaginative, humorous, and surprising. If you are drawn to romantic comedies with an off-kilter charm or you get tickled watching families much crazier than your own, find this one fast. You will like what you see.
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Talented Alicia Witt Gamely Struggling With Poor Screenplay.
jehaccess68 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I really liked Alicia Witt in 'Two Weeks Notice' and decided to get some of her other efforts. This film certainly didn't fall into the enjoyable category.

It may well not be P.C., but I can hardly imagine a less convincing Jewish girl than Alicia Witt. She is obviously from a far different section of the gene pool. It was ridiculous to cast Elliot Gould and Marlo Thomas as her parents.

The plot has 'Claire Goldstein' (Witt) winning a piano competition, but hiding her success from all her competitors when the results are announced. This is so odd as to dampen my acceptance of all the bizarre characters, situations, and behavior encountered later in the film.

When the plot makes 'Claire' a wallflower at a dance, I almost shut off the film in disgust. A beauty like her would have hardly faced rejection from the amorous guys on the dance floor.

I enjoyed the tiny portion of the film that allowed Alicia to actually play the piano. She is obviously a very accomplished pianist. I got the impression that the screenplay was written for another actress and Alicia had to step in when the first choice wasn't cast for the part.

Perhaps I was just vainly hoping for the film plot to take another direction and allow 'Claire' to shine instead being a helpless bystander in her own life.

Otherwise, this film is full of formula characters and situations. Some efforts rise above their limited budgets. This one just plods along.
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