6.5/10
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Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

PG-13 | | Drama | 19 December 2003 (USA)
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A free-thinking art professor teaches conservative 1950s Wellesley girls to question their traditional social roles.

Director:

Mike Newell
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Popularity
2,473 ( 112)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Julia Roberts ... Katherine Ann Watson
Kirsten Dunst ... Betty Warren
Julia Stiles ... Joan Brandwyn
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Giselle Levy
Ginnifer Goodwin ... Connie Baker
Dominic West ... Bill Dunbar
Juliet Stevenson ... Amanda Armstrong
Marcia Gay Harden ... Nancy Abbey
John Slattery ... Paul Moore
Marian Seldes ... President Jocelyn Carr
Donna Mitchell ... Mrs. Warren
Terence Rigby ... Dr. Edward Staunton
Jennie Eisenhower ... Girl at the Station
Leslie Lyles Leslie Lyles ... Housing Director
Laura Allen ... Susan Delacorte
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Storyline

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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

In einer Welt, die ihnen vorschrieb, wie man lebt, lehrte sie sie, wie man denkt. (In a world that told them how to live, she taught them how to think.) See more »

Genres:

Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Italian

Release Date:

19 December 2003 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

La sonrisa de Mona Lisa See more »

Filming Locations:

USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$65,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$11,528,498, 21 December 2003, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$63,860,942

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$141,337,989
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Krysten Ritter and Lily Rabe, now both well known leading actresses, appear in numerous scenes of the film as extras - playing students in the art history class. See more »

Goofs

The costumes for the Wellesley students are mostly inaccurate for the depicted era. Students did not wear girdles or pearls or earrings to class. Instead many women wore jeans and sweatshirts. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Betty Warren: [voiceover] 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.
See more »

Crazy Credits

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 »

Connections

Referenced in Kingdom of the Vampire (2007) See more »

Soundtracks

Smile
Written by Charles Chaplin, John Turner, and Geoffrey Parsons
Performed by Barbra Streisand
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By Arrangement with Sony Music Licensing
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
A mixed bag feel good nostalgia movie with forced and familiar strains about 1950s sexism in the US
6 May 2013 | by secondtakeSee all my reviews

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

I had no idea the theme of this movie but I teach art history and the main opening scene is a true nightmare for an art history teacher--the precocious students knew everything before the teacher said anything, and then they sweetly got up and went to study hall because, of course, they might actually learn something there.

This is 1953 at a rich private and elite college for girls (a real one--it's called Wellesley). The writing is a little strained and forcing some of the sexist themes of the 1950s on the audience. So even the stellar cast--Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal--can't give this the sincerity it needs. But the period looks terrific, the music and the dresses are fine, so the whole atmosphere frankly becomes the compelling center of the movie.

Not that the plot isn't worthwhile. Roberts is a "progressive" art teacher who for some reason has been hired at this ultra-conservative place. She automatically is lost at sea, but gradually wins over her students with such daring subjects as Van Gogh, who is presented as radical somehow, though conservative enough to become paint by numbers, too. The movie is filled with these conflicts of what we think of as normal modern art (an overdone scene with Jackson Pollack is one example) and with the proper world these women are really supposed to inhabit.

And it's true, lots of women were encouraged to be housewives even at good colleges. They went to get their degree, but also their Mrs., as they used to say. And then with the best credentials in the world they would become housewives. Happily. Mostly.

There is a rivalry right away between Roberts and a goody-goody Dunst, who is pretty good at being an evil brat, and a sensuous modern student played by Gyllenhaal, who wants the same man Roberts seems to want. Seems to. The romances are not very vivid, the housewifery is canned and uncomplicated (almost drawn from the magazine ads that they keep showing in lectures on a big screen), and the characters themselves are simplified to the point of simplicity. Even Roberts, who is supposed to be discovering her mixed up feelings about art and life on the east coast, is thinly drawn and barely fleshed out.

Of course, movies succeed on some level with stereotypes and this one does, too, so by the end we love all the feel good happiness even as we know it's ludicrous and manipulative. Such are the movies. This could have been a better movie with the same basic story but lots better writing and directing. The ambition was kept in check, and so the movie does the minimum here, and not always so badly if the minimum will do.

On a final note, there are a number of women behind the scenes here (though not the director or writers, sadly): music, art direction, set decoration, and casting. And of course nearly all of the cast.


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