A married woman realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, and that her life needs to go in a different direction. After a painful divorce, she takes off on a round-the-world journey to "find herself".
Katherine Ann Watson has accepted a position teaching art history at the prestigious Wellesley College. Watson is a very modern woman, particularly for the 1950s, and has a passion not only for art but for her students. For the most part, the students all seem to be biding their time, waiting to find the right man to marry. The students are all very bright and Watson feels they are not reaching their potential. Altough a strong bond is formed between teacher and student, Watson's views are incompatible with the dominant culture of the college. Written by
Producers originally applied to film at Bryn Mawr College, another one of the Seven Sisters. It is unclear why they ultimately went with Wellesley College. See more »
The first day of art history class, Katherine Watson brings in two black slide cases. When is class is over, she leaves with one red slide case. See more »
All her life, she had wanted to teach at Wellesley College. So, when a position opened in the Art History department, she pursued it single-mindedly until she was hired. It was whispered that Katherine Watson, a first-year teacher from Oakland State, made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree. Which was why this bohemian from California was on her way to the most conservative college in the nation.
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The end credits for the prominent cast and crew are set in front of vintage footage and advertisements showing women in the 1940s and 50s. See more »
A 117-minute cover version of "Free To Be... You And Me."
The main theme in Rachel Portman's score for "Mona Lisa Smile" is yet another rewrite of her Oscar-nominated score for "The Cider House Rules" - charming, pleasant to listen to, but unoriginal. In that respect, it fits this movie perfectly.
The movie is nominally about the new teacher at the all-girls Wellesley College in 1953 and how she tries to get the students there to think for themselves instead of following the path their elders have set for them, but director Mike Newell (who it's impossible to believe once did movies like "Dance With A Stranger") and writers Laurence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, taking time out from weak remakes (they also did the Tim Burton "Planet of the Apes") and sequels (they also did "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" and "The Jewel Of The Nile") to do an all-new movie, turn it into a nicely-shot, decently-acted two-hour soap opera. I admit I didn't hate it the way some other males commenting on it seem to - it's passably amusing and I can see the points it's trying to make - but ultimately it just doesn't come off.
Part of the problem is the casting; Julia Roberts is never believable for a second as the art teacher, and she spends the movie being acted off the screen by her students (when they show off more textbook knowledge than she does in their first class, the impression that they should be teaching her never leaves) and fellow teachers. Kirsten Dunst (as a prissy writer on the college newspaper who stands for The Way Things Are) and Julia Stiles (as an art student with a desire to be a lawyer) seem to have been cast in each other's roles by mistake; Stiles in particular sounds as if she's playing at being grown-up throughout, although both she and Dunst give it their best shot for the most part (KD's big emotional scene near the end is dreadful). As for the male roles, let's just call them tokens and leave it at that. (In fairness, Ginnifer Goodwin as the... pleasantly plump girl (you can't really call her fat), Maggie Gyllenhaal as a sexy free spirit, Marcia Gay Harden as a fellow teacher obsessed with TV and an all-too-briefly seen Juliet Stevenson as a nurse are all much better value.)
But what really hurts "Mona Lisa Smile" isn't the acting, or the music (though it's no fun hearing Barbra Streisand vocally showing off over the credits), but the writing. In addition to setting up all its characters as cliches and not really building up any of its plot lines (with Roberts's plot the dullest of all), the script's attempts to bring over the idea of women in the 1950s being who they choose to be, though perfectly laudable, come over as people switching to suit the plot (it's never clear how one character winds up changing her mind in the end). Rather than earn the movie's would-be bittersweet ending, it seems obligatory. Not much about the movie is honest, and even less is moving - only Goodwin's and Gyllenhaal's scenes are truly interesting, the former because it gives the movie some true emotion, and the latter because she's an alluring and likeable creature; some funny moments, but not enough to make it true fun. Just enough, however, to make the movie endurable.
"Mona Lisa Smile" isn't a BAD movie; it's just unnecessary, and not nearly the deep and moving treatise about the pre-Women's Lib days that it thinks it is. It's a lot like some of the beauty contestants we see in the 1950s montage at the end - pretty, but pretty shallow.
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