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Mona Lisa Smile More at IMDbPro »

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233 out of 369 people found the following review useful:

A disappointing picture of Wellesley College in 1953

Author: lwhaley from Newmarket, NH
4 January 2004

As a graduate of Wellesley College, 1952, I was eager to see the movie. For a while I thought maybe it was supposed to be a satire. I had read reviews but no one mentioned satire. It was so ludicrous, so over the top, so busy giving us stereotypes, and so far from my experience that it was depressing. I didn't mind the Julia Roberts character although she is probably anachronistic. Certainly those young women, so well dressed for classes, talking back to her in well thought out sentences full of vitriol were figments of Hollywood's imagination. I remember no courses offered, either in classrooms or rooms in dorms or faculty housing, on "poise," proper table setting, etc. And nowhere in the movie did any of the girls discuss ideas (except in the art class). The nighttime dormitory sessions were all about men, getting husbands, and pointing fingers at Giselle, the "whore." In actuality, we used to stay up late discussing ideas, and we were passionate about such things as academic freedom.

The plush dormitory rooms were more figments of Hollywood's imagination. Our rooms were of the bare bones variety. I remember bringing a comfortable chair of my own from home.

I loved my art history and music appreciation courses. They changed my life. I had known nothing of art before Wellesley and only the Warsaw Concerto for classical music. But those two courses informed my life and have stayed with me all these years, enriching my experience. I had a career as a high school English teacher and my literature courses were wonderful for that purpose and for expanding my reading. But the art and music courses were special.

Good acting; good costumes for the most part; the people looked authentic for the times (except too dressed up for class; we wore skirts and blouses, no blue jeans). It was nice to see some of the beautiful campus. I don't remember ever taking part in hoop rolling, daisy chain, the opening day ceremony in front of the chapel.

Finally, what was the point of making such a movie today? To suggest how far we've come from the 1950s? To ridicule what was then? After all, there was much that was good. I mean I feel so lucky to have been able to go to a place like Wellesley even if it was for the privileged. It certainly was not as conservative as the movie depicted; nor was it a "finishing school." Professors were continually opening our minds to more and more knowledge. The canon then may have been mostly men (we read almost all male writers in our English courses, but that's how it was). What was wonderful, however, was being with all women, being able to speak up freely in class, being able to win positions of authority in extra curricular organizations like the college newspaper. Not having to compete with men.

I was really disappointed, In the Women's Room after the movie, I questioned everyone there...there were a couple my age or a little younger and then a few a generation or more younger. Everyone had liked the movie! One young woman tried to tell me it wasn't just about Wellesley; they were depicting the 50s in general. But the fact is the 50s in general were not that dismal!

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76 out of 94 people found the following review useful:

A well-made Wellesley College period piece.

Author: TxMike from Houston, Tx, USA, Earth
4 July 2004

I liked Julia Roberts less in her earlier movies, I like her more now that she is playing older and flawed characters, like the new professor of Art History in 1953 Wellesley College in "Mona Lisa Smile." And the title does not refer to her, instead it is embedded in remarks in the screenplay about the actual painting of The Mona Lisa. Not everything turns out well in this movie, it more closely reflects real life than do many of the modern romantic comedies. This one is NOT a romantic comedy, although it does include several romances, and there are some funny parts. It is more a serious drama about life and growing up, both from the perspectives of the undergraduates, and the new professor. I bought the DVD, the picture and sound are fine, and there are several interesting extras on the making of this movie, and the work done to get the period correct.

I don't share the many negative comments about this movie. It is a fine drama, one that merits repeat viewings once or twice a year. It is NOT simply a 'Dead Poet's Society' for the girls. To call it that is to overlook all the fine, unique points about this movie.

Update: Saw it again March 2013, I enjoyed it as much as the first two times.

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69 out of 83 people found the following review useful:

Either you're gonna love it or you won't.

Author: pancakes27 from United Kingdom
5 April 2004

I just watched this movie in the theatres as it was released just a few days ago overhere. What can you expect from it? You've seen the trailers... It looks pretty much like Dead Poet's Society doesn't it? But with women instead? :-D.

Well, I had that feeling indeed. It felt like Dead Poet's Society during some periods in the movie. But overall, it was still different. The surface story isn't that complicated and easy to follow. It's nothing new either. But it was displayed very well.

Sure, it's about a teacher... her passion to teach and the way she outwitted the students to get the best out of them... It also shows the way a good teacher cares for their students and so forth... and the way contradicting ideas may blind one's ideas and actions, towards those who they are meant for. Did that sentence sound weird or what? :).

You can't go wrong with the cast here. You've got Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnefer Goodwin, etc. They played great in the movie.

Julia Roberts is just great at playing these emotional roles. It was believable as well. I at least could feel the frustration which she had. Her character is more of a confused type. She reminded me of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds... There was basically a mixture of confusion and dedication... thus as a teacher, despite how sure of she may be of her teaching methods, you also sense a nervousness in her... a feeling of uncertainty as to whether her methods of getting the messages across to the students or not will work. I thought Julia Roberts did a great job in that area.

Kirsten was just excellent. You could feel the internal turmoil going through her throughout the movie. One might argue that she had a pretty wack role and that she overacted etc. but I don't agree with that. She's practically a heartless b**** through the movie, but you can't help but understand why. The same goes for Julia and Maggie. Just the way they were depicted in the movie, you really felt for them. Ginnefer Goodwin's character was also funny and emotional to watch.

Marcia Gay Harden, as Julia's friend was great. She was a pretty funny character to watch, but at the same time, you just can't help but feel sorry for her.

Times have changed... from those times and now. Many might watch this movie and go, "Uhm, okay, what's the big deal?" But the problem is that women have gone through a great ordeal and struggle to get to where they are today in society. Even today, they still fight to gain respect in many areas in the world today.

I've heard many bad comments about this movie. And funnily enough, most of them come from guys... whilst the females found it a bit better. There were some negative comments but many said that they loved it, but felt that it wasn't a movie for everyone.

The movie tackling the issue of feminism only touches upon a small part of it all of course. One cannot tackle the whole aspect of feminism in any one single movie at all, and I found the focus to be good enough. There are many stereotypes here and I found them necessary to get the points across. If it were not for the stereotypes, people would be wondering what the point really was. But now that there are stereotypes, people will complain about them.

I thought that it was a bit too short. It could have focused a bit more on the other characters in the movie... i.e. the girls in school. A few more subplots and build ups may have been better. There was a little foreshadowing in the movie but one couldn't help but wonder where the movie was going. But what overcame this, from my point of view, was that you just felt that you wanted to get to know the characters in the movie more. The more you knew about each character, the more the characters knew about one another. I thought that was quite nice.

I would advise everyone with an open mind for dramas to go watch this movie. If guys see this movie as a "chick flick"... they really won't know what to expect cause this would be "the most THE chick flick for chicks" if you get my drift. I'm a guy and I found it entertaining... Whether it was insightful or not, I wouldn't say it was, due to experiences and stories throughout my life.

The movie isn't without flaws... There could have been even more character build up if only the director's were given more film to record the picture. But do watch this if you can :). It'll be worth the time, if you're patient enough :).

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45 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

Much better than I expected

Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN
12 March 2004

Another film about a progressive teacher trying to teach her students how to think outside of the box. Fortunately, unlike School of Rock, my views on which were accosted last week, I left Mona Lisa Smile mostly satisfied with what I had seen. No, it's not especially revelatory or surprising. You can more or less guess what's going to happen to each character by the end. But it does leave a little more room for characterization, for slightly unexpected outcomes, and it doesn't telegraph its moments quite so rigidly as the Linklater film. Julia Roberts is an actress about whom I feel nothing; I neither like nor dislike her. I think this is one of her better performances, certainly much better than her Oscar winning role in Erin Brockovich. She plays the progressive art history teacher, who arrives at Welsley to learn that all of her students have already studied the textbook from cover to cover, and can answer any question that might arise from the class's current syllabus. The curriculum and Roberts' superiors are strict in what they want to teach about art, but Roberts veers towards teaching what the textbook will not despite them. The superiors are unhappy with her course, but some of the students are opened up to the experience. Outside of class, Roberts faces as large a challenge. Most of her students have completely resigned to the idea that they are destined for marriage and nothing more. The status quo must be challenged. The students are a nice range of characters. Kirsten Dunst plays the most conservative, who is about to be married when the film opens. She, of course, rejects Roberts' ideals. On the other end of the spectrum is Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is the sexually promiscuous girl who idealizes her teacher. Slightly left of center is Ginnifer Goodwin and right of center Julia Stiles. These four characters are set up very mechanically, of course, but the characters succeed (and this can be said about all of the other characters of the movie, including Roberts', who are all rather mechanical) on the quality of acting. Each of the performers are wonderful. They manage to make you care, which is something that didn't happen with School of Rock, whose performers (with the one exception of Joan Cusack) were adequate or worse. I especially loved Marcia Gay Harden, giving another one of the best performances of 2003, as Roberts' roommate, who teaches etiquette. She's a pathetic, tragicomic image of what some of the girls will become if they insist that the traditional concept of womanhood remain unchanged. The film also boasts exceptional technical qualities. It's simply very well made. 8/10.

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54 out of 80 people found the following review useful:

Will raise the spirits of all but the most hard hearted.

Author: Jim Beller from Rockville, Maryland
12 October 2004

My granddaughters like to watch movies over and over. With Mona Lisa Smile, I'm with them. This is a movie that will lift you up and make you smile.

Some reviewers on this site claim the movie has a liberal agenda. Well, if its liberal to want young ladies to consider all their options and be able to reach for the stars - if they choose, then who can disagree. Label me with an "L".

Recent movies that I will watch again include Groundhog Day, In America, The Emperor's Club, and In & Out. If you liked most of these, watch this movie.

You won't be disappointed. And be sure to watch the credits at the end, the part done to the song "The Heart of Every Girl." The older generation will really relate.

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30 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

This Picture Is Better Than It Should Be

Author: tonstant viewer
15 June 2004

This is the kind of movie that is easy to pan, but deserves better. Yes, the premise is familiar, the plot is formulaic, the characters seem like you've met them before.


"The devil is in the details," as they say, and this picture has just enough surprises, just enough charm, just enough fine acting to make it worth watching. Movies do not have to be real to be worthwhile, they just have to be about real things. The questions "Mona Lisa Smile" covers are still very much with us, and may provoke considerable discussion in your house. This film is respectful enough of its subject matter and well-enough executed to make it a much better way to spend your time than most of what's out there now. Don't believe the sourpusses, this one's a good'un.

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26 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Finally, a film that doesn't insult our intelligence!

Author: Paul (Shakespeare-2) from Ottawa, Canada
20 December 2003

I didn't expect much going into "Mona Lisa Smile". I figured it was going to be a rehash of all the movies ever made about teachers. You know, from "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", to "The Dead Poets' Society" and "Mr. Holland's Opus". But "Mona Lisa Smile" pleasantly surprised me, especially the uncompromising, principled ending.

Another thing that pleased me was the film's assumption of an intelligent, educated audience that does not require any dumbing-down of art and culture. "Mona Lisa Smile" rattles off names of artists and their works as if it fully expected moviegoers to be conversant with them. In at least one case, the film names neither the artist nor the work (Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon"). All of these things are taken as givens, as part and parcel of a sophisticated audience's cultural baggage -- quite a change from the usual pap that Hollywood spoonfeeds us!

Moreover, the film sometimes speaks volumes by what it doesn't say but simply shows, taking for granted that we will fill in the blanks from our knowledge of the history of the period (that is, the early 1950s). There is one oblique reference to McCarthyism. A photo of an atomic explosion reminds us of the post-WWII, Cold War era. A game show on TV triggers a memory of the payola scandal. Again, "Mona Lisa Smile" credits us with brains rather than insulting our intelligence.

Mercifully, the title of the film is not simply a reference to Julia Roberts' famous beestung, collagen-enhanced lips. As Kirsten Dunst's character explains toward the end of the movie, Mona Lisa's smile is not necessarily an indication that she is happy and content -- any more than the women of the 1950s with their dream homes and seemingly perfect lives. "Mona Lisa Smile" is ultimately an indictment of those in society who perpetrate and perpetuate secrets and lies, and a tribute to those through whom the truth prevails.

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18 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Dead Poets for Girls, just not as good...

Author: MovieCriticDave from Oklahoma City, OK
18 January 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

* There are no *specific* spoilers, but some *conceptual* notions that might be considered spoilers* Julia Roberts finds herself at a perplexing crossroads in her career. She's edging beyond the era of the "Pretty Woman" roles, yet hardly ready for the role of matron. "Mona Lisa Smile," where she plays a college instructor heading to the conservative east coast, seems the perfect vehicle for Roberts to make a transition; unfortunately, the result is a bumpy ride in which Roberts herself seems decidedly uncomfortable, and one that becomes only a faint reflection of its opposite-gender inspiration, "Dead Poets Society." Roberts plays Katherine Watson, a liberal-minded west-coast art teacher who finds herself with the opportunity to take over a similar position at Wellesley College, an ultraconservative women's college in 1953. Watson arrives, hoping to "make a difference" in the lives of some of the smartest women in the country by extending the notion of "traditional" attitudes about art to attitudes about life, and the life of women in particular.

Roberts seems oddly intimidated by a role in which she is overtaken by a strong ensemble of classmates (including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst, and Julia Stiles), a powerfully dislikeable school administrator, and even the "house mother" at her instructor's dorm, played by Marcia Gay Harden. She seems at ease only in the film's lone romantic scene with her, as she lounges lazily in front of a fireplace with her long hair flowing down her face.

Kirsten Dunst as Betty Warren, spoiled and naive daughter of a Wellseley board member, is the antagonist, the lightning rod for convention and propriety, and wields a pen as her weapon against Watson's enlightened west-coast intrusions. We ultimately see her poison pen serve as foreshadowing of her own anger at the unraveling of her own presumably idyllic life in light of the uncapped potential of her peers. By film's end, she has clearly grown and changed more than Roberts.

The film ends with an attempt at a grand sendoff of the rebellious instructor in keeping with Dead Poets Society's on-the-desk "Captain my Captain", but the characters are not drawn with sufficient depth to make us sympathetic with the loss of their mentor, and the scene is only visually satisfying. If anything, we are more drawn to the strength of the relationships of the students to each other rather than the instructor. Where "Poets" drew Robin Williams character deep into the lives of his students, Watson's student relationship is manufactured at best, strained and intrusive at worst.

The film deserves unexpected credit for not casting itself as a unilateral message of contemporary feminism. It allows Watson, as the enlightened teacher, to offer her message of women's potential in non-traditional roles, yet also allows one of her students to assert the right to choose that traditional role without condescension.

It would be too harsh to cast the film as a failure. It is a decently written story, if too thin - always a risk with a story laden with numerous central characters, but often a masterpiece if done right, as in Dead Poets. "Smile" is wonderfully photographed in the picturesque northeast, and Roberts' supporting cast is arguably the very strength of the film. But for an actress who has made a career out of stealing scenes with a calculated glaze, wilting in the shadow of her co-stars is characterized as nothing but a below-par performance. "Smile" ends up being a "Dead Poets" for suffragettes, but just not done nearly as well.

And that's a shame.

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28 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

It's hard to take a "message" movie seriously when it's so phony (*1/2)

Author: Jason Alley ( from Sacramento
8 January 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Julia Roberts, in her first misstep since the toxic "America's Sweethearts", stars as Katherine Watson, a "free-thinking" "bohemian" art teacher who comes to Wellesly's Women's College ("the most conservative college in the nation") in 1953 to teach and encounters conflict because of her teaching style (which is apparently not only "free-thinking" and "bohemian", but "subversive" too!) after attempting to get the women to appreciate modern art. Of course, after all the required plot points are surpassed, there's a happy ending when we realize that she touched all of her students' lives and they'll never forget her and blah, blah, blah.


I'm all for movies about encouraging original thought and fighting tradition and being yourself, but it's hard for me to take seriously when it's presented in such broad strokes that it's as if Katherine and a select few of her students are the only real humans and everyone else are heartless, bloodless, alien pod people.

The other humans (you know, fellow "free-thinking", "subversive" "bohemians") are played by Julia Stiles, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (who predictably gives the only memorable performance).

The pod people are everyone else, but especially Kirsten Dunst as a student who vocally opposes Katherine's teaching with dialogue like "Don't disregard our traditions just because you're subversive!" and the gorgon-like campus President (Marian Seldes). Of course Dunst is only a pod person until her husband cheats on her and she realizes Katherine was right all along, just in time for the heartwarming ending (whew! that was a close one!).

I feel mean for beating up on this harmless little puppy of a movie, but when a movie's trying to be "serious" and bungles it pretty much every step of the way and so badly, it's hard not to. Every character is a stereotype, every situation a cliche, everything in general feels completely phony, and as a result the good message that it's trying to impart is rendered meaningless.

Too bad about Julia Roberts. I hadn't liked her movies for a very long time, but then, all of a sudden, she started becoming interesting, taking non-typical roles in good movies like "Ocean's Eleven", "Full Frontal", "Erin Brockovich" and especially the extremely underrated "The Mexican". Let's hope she gets going in the right direction again.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Anti-feminist Wolf in Feminist Sheep Clothing

Author: reel_emotion from United States
8 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mona Lisa Smile is Hollywood's schizophrenic take on feminism. Julia Roberts plays an art history professor who takes a teaching position at the all-female Wellesly College in the 1950s. Roberts is characterized as a bohemian who encourages female independence, but it is only her kind of independence she endorses. She believes women should not marry and should be professionals--like herself. In other words, trade in one role for another role: trade in the apron for the briefcase.

By the middle, I found Mona Lisa Smile insulting and false. The young women who went to college back then FOUGHT to go to college. They wanted an education--whether that led to matrimony or career didn't matter. Mona Lisa Smile just doesn't ring true for me. Women didn't live their lives like ads in magazine anymore than women do now. You might aspire to that, but reality sets in soon enough.

Roberts' pupils seem content with romance--and really don't think of much else. Even the most liberated of the bunch played by Maggie Gyllenhal is only concerned with her sexual liberation. Kirsten Dunst's character is a know-it-all snob who believes marriage is the only way. But Roberts is proved right when Dunst's marriage fails. Dunst goes from being a strident traditionalist to a strident feminist--either way she is annoying. The only girl who having a boyfriend is seen as a good thing is the chubby, plain-Jane girl. The movie seems to say that she should be grateful that she found someone. Julia Stiles plays the smartest girl who is accepted to law school, but she is really in love.

By the end of Mona Lisa Smile, Roberts rejects a marriage proposal by a male friend who she is close to--and he seems to really understand her. She accidentally calls him "Bill"--Dominic West's lying Lothario professor character who she really wants to be with (And we are treated with Roberts and West's predictable romance which drags the movie down.). All of this puts her in a bad light. Not good for someone who is supposed to be the heroine of the movie.

Roberts is furthered humiliated when she barges in on Stiles' after wedding reception, telling her she could work in law school with her marriage. But Stiles has to make it finally clear to Roberts that she doesn't want a career--her career will be raising a good family. She says that no one regrets not going to law school on their death bed--something to that effect. A-ha! Mona Lisa Smile shows its real stripes here.

The only positive things I can say about Mona Lisa Smile: the women's fashions were authentic right down to the clip on earrings (Again sometimes Roberts didn't look like she was from the '50s with her long hair. I guess they were telling us that she was the more free future.); the soundtrack was good with some remakes by contemporary artists; and I enjoyed the art lectures. But, other than that, skip this movie.

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