Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Time: 117 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Mike Newell
  • Cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles


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.

One comment

  • Let me start by saying that I like Julia Roberts. I like the kind of brittle tough although essentially vulnerable woman that she has developed over the years.

    In Mystic Pizza, Julia played a waitress who was dating someone whose primary interest in her was a sort of reverse status thing. She was taken home to give his parents a bad time. Julia knew this. He did not gain any points with her. She was much more aware of human motivations than he was, but she dated him hoping that she was wrong. She gave him the benefit of her doubt.

    Same characteristic in Pretty Woman. She was much more aware of what she was than Richard Gere. She makes him climb the fire escape on her terms, not his.

    Ms. Roberts creates a smart vulnerable clever woman. She cannot help that she also turns out to be very likable, even when she is not so. People I know do not like her in Notting Hill at all. They think Julia plays a ditz. I disagree. It takes her a bit to grow up enough to realize that fame is not everything. She has to know that camera beauty will not last forever. She can mouth the words, but she does not yet feel them. It takes time to learn to live our principles.

    Many great actresses have created variations on the same woman. Certainly, it’s true of Ingrid Bergman, who created the innocent, sexy, vulnerable, obedient and very lovable character in such movies as Casablanca and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Certainly, no one would ever say that she did not deserve her awards just because her characters all resembled one another.

    The clever woman she creates in Mona Lisa Smile does not trouble me. Her dialog and delivery more than make up for her obvious limitations and her students, where they students and not just making a movie, would be well aware of this. They like her not because she knows everything, but because she wants them to be the best of what they are capable of being.

    It is not that she despises home and marriage. She despises the trap that the 1950’s created for women. She saw it as enslavement. Her students saw it as a fulfillment of a woman’s prime directive dictated by Mother Nature herself.

    The struggle is a very real one. In a way, the movie pleads for a return for more traditional values: what we are currently doing has not worked. Maybe those in the 50’s had a point. Maybe not. However, Julia’s character is wise enough to accept the possibility that both ways have their place: neither should be lived without exploring the other.

    She has a point. We ought to listen.

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