Mona Lisa Smile
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Academy Award(r)-winner Julia Roberts (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Erin Brockovich, 2000) leads an all-star cast featuring Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhall and Marcia Gay Harden. MONA LISA SMILE is a funny, inspiring and uplifting film about an art history professor with a lot to teach about life and much to learn about romance.
- Art Forum
- College Then and Now
- What Women Wanted: 1953
- Music video: Elton John "The Heart of Every Girl"
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Top customer reviews
...but I love this film. I've read most of the negative reviews both here and on IMDB, and I can't help but agree with many of the criticisms, particularly where time-period and anachronistic elements are concerned. I know that every 1950's cliché is at maximum wattage and Katherine Watson arrives at Wellesley College not on a train but in a Way-Back Time Machine from the 21st Century. Many of the main characters are one-dimensional and unconvincing and the plot is plodding and predictable. I understand that it's probably meant to channel the spirit of "Dead Poets Society" for women a little bit, and I can see that some of the main values taught by the respective teachers in each are similar, but DPS hit audiences on a deeper level, with a darker ending. I mean, one could hardly compare Neil Perry's suicide to Betty Warren's divorce. Professor Keating is blamed for Neil's suicide and is fired, but in the end no one blames Katherine for Betty's divorce (except maybe Betty's mother) and Katherine makes her own decision to leave Wellesley. The students in MLS are grown-up, college seniors ready for "real" life; the boys in DPS are all still just high-school kids. Professor Keating is loved almost immediately and absolutely by nearly all of his students; Katherine has to slowly earn the respect of her students, one at a time.
Despite the critics, I do believe that there ARE truths in MLS, if only because my mother, who lived and attended college at that time, pointed them out to me. She confirmed that most of the young women she attended school with were NOT in college because they had dreams and ambitions of high-powered careers. None of the girls in her classes, dorm or sorority wanted to be scientists, bank managers, lawyers, doctors or CEO's (that she knew of, anyway.) Most of them viewed post-graduate employment (as a bookkeeping clerk, secretary/receptionist, a nurse, or the main career option - a teacher) as simply a way to make a living until Mr. Right came along or as a way to pass the time and supplement their income for a few years after marrying until the kids started coming.
That doesn't mean they didn't appreciate their college education. Though my mother admitted freely to being one of those women who cared more about getting an "MRS" than a BofA, she said a good many of the girls were quite interested in the outside world, artistic freedom, literature, philosophy, politics and current events. She knew a few young women who continued on to graduate school or nursing school, but she knew of only one person whom she called "career-oriented" at that time, and that girl's eventual goal was to be a school principal like her own mother was. For the most part, in my mother's experience, the girls she knew in college weren't all that different from the girls in MLS. My college experience 30 years later was different. The girls I knew in college were there because of what they wanted to achieve professionally, not to look for mates.
I still love the look of the film; the costumes, cars, building interiors, the campus scenery, as well as the music, both the period music and the score. I sympathized with poor Nancy Abbey whose dreams of a home and family are fading, and Giselle who was looking so hard for male approval and companionship to make up for the father who left when she was still young and impressionable. I at first hated Betty Warren along with everyone else, but I truly felt sorry for her in the end. Spencer Jones is unpleasant enough, but Jordan Bridges is a very mediocre actor. He just came across as flat and wooden.
Even though I know intellectually that the 1950's were not the idyllic, simple time our contemporary culture has made them out to be, this film reaches me on an emotional level and has the power to make me feel pleasantly nostalgic for a time that at least seemed a little more stable than the time I grew up in.
This story is one of such courage to be an independent woman when after being a vital part of the industrial effort of WWII. The government was trying to make her subservient again. Most women go along with the 'grand design' like bleating sheep going to slaughter. There are those who see through charade and wonder if it is a good personal fit. Others revolt, speak out and run against the grain.
When it a collegiate professor who leads the revolt, there is trouble at all levels. Trouble with the college administration who employs her, trouble with students who are seeing the first challenge of the entrenched system they have followed until this point of their young lives.
The genie is out of the bottle and this time she just will not go back in!
I thought it was a great fiction story based in a reality we all lived through if you were born immediately after the war. It was a great look back at the 'garbage' the government tried to indoctrinate. It was the stuff my mother went through.
The government's and societies design clearly backfired and this story tells of just one spark that lit the fire!
If you like finding out how things got to be the way they are, this is a story for you! Bring your brains and be prepared to ponder issues of deep consequence. This is not a mindless situational comedy for the thumb sucking TV watchers which are just looking for "something to watch" or "mindless entertainment" of a reality programs.
I find myself thinking about this story frequently months after I have seen it. Great buy! Great story! Great issues! Great remembrances! Great look back!