There is nothing in the world more annoying than a film that claims to be a
high-quality, important drama, but is instead a threadbare, predictable and
horribly safe paint-by-numbers bore.
Mona Lisa Smile
is so blatantly,
shamelessly and hungrily trying to be an Oscar contender
that it looks like they didnt bother to take into account that it
simply isnt a very good movie. Then again, neither was
and somehow Julia Roberts tricked the Academy into believing that her
one-note performance was worthy of the Best Actress Oscar. I dont think
shell have the same luck with this one.
Much like Robin Williams
the movie wants to seem revolutionary, but it is actually making an
extremely safe argument about something that most
everyone in the world is already in line with.
Certainly the 1950s were repressed and offered very little opportunity for
women beyond marriage and childbirth. This isnt exactly stop-the-presses
material here. It also really isnt an argument that needs to be made. Of
course, women are capable of bigger things than raising a family. However,
bringing this 2003 sensibility back to the 1953 world
being portrayed is stacking the deck.
Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson, a free-spirited bohemian who had
taught Art History at Berkeley and now has been
offered a position at Wellesley
College. She is disappointed to find that Wellesley is,
in her mind, not so much an institute of higher learning as a
finishing school to prep women for being wives and mothers. Now, I tend to
think she wouldnt be quite that surprised having grown up in the 50s and
knowing what is going on in the world. I also tend to believe that
Wellesley probably wasnt quite as backward even back then as the film wants
us to believe.
introduces her students to
Katherineart and music and
Jackson Pollock and the idea of a
woman having a career beyond place setting. In
the meantime, all the other faculty members cluck about this radical woman
and her crazy ideas. She even has time to work her charm
on a hunky professor (Domenic West of
but because of her beliefs he realizes they will likely not have a long-term
Surprisingly, the weakest link in this film is the star, simply because she
is JULIA ROBERTS. Anytime we start for even a moment to look at Katherine
as a character, she smiles her
smile or makes an
quip (many of which are totally inappropriate to
the era) and you are removed from the world the
movie is striving to create. Suddenly were remembering that she isnt a
visiting professor at all, we are watching a movie star who somehow has
forgotten how to disappear into a character. Instead, she lets her
own personality guide who exactly Katherine is.
Lets face it, Julia Roberts is charming and down to earth and funny, but in
the world of this movie she really does stick out
like a sore thumb.
funny thing is, for a woman who preaches to her students throughout the
whole long film that they should forget what society says and go for their
dreams, Katherine seems rather intolerant of any student who does not agree
with her idea of what they as women should
accomplish. She berates students for selling themselves short if they are
pleased with their lifestyles; but who is she to
determine what will make someone else happy? Some
women (back then, many women) were content with the plans they knew were
expected of them. In this film, though, Kirsten Dunst has to be
portrayed as a horrible monster because she is
comfortable and satisfied in her
place and time. That hardly seems fair.
is a shame, because there is the germ of a
good film here. Many of the actresses playing students
are very good -- particularly Julia
Styles as an aspiring lawyer and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a party girl. Topher Grace
(That 70s Show)
is also effortlessly believable as Stiles' fiancé,
a guy who is perplexed by the changing times and her
changing values. Marcia Gay Harden also has some good moments as an
etiquette teacher who appears repressed
at least on the surface.
you dont feel any of the student-teacher connection and
the sense of the pure joy of learning
which was earned in similar
(but better) films like
Goodbye Mr. Chips, To Sir With Love,
The Dead Poets Society.
Mona Lisa Smile
is too busy pushing its own agenda (and, again, it
is an agenda that very few people
have disagreed with in about
four decades) to make the characters anything more than
socio-political symbols. That may work on a freshman thesis, but it isnt
going to fly in a major motion picture.
Copyright © 2003 PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved.
Posted: December 27,