Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
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Review Date: December 11, 2003
Director: Mike Newell
Writer: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Producers: Deborah Schindler, Paul Schiff
Julia Roberts as Katherine
Julia Stiles as Joan
Kirsten Dunst as Betty
A liberal-minded woman from California (nice touch) gets a job as a teacher at an all-girl east coast college and proceeds to teach the ladies everything she knows about art, history and (all together now!) life!! The students, in turn, showcase their own brand of education, much of which has to do with studying hard, looking cute in 50s clothing and marrying men in order to cook and clean for them. Aaaaah, the 50s...such innocent times...hehehe. Julia Roberts (sans George Clooney) ensues...
This is an okay movie featuring an old age story about a "wise adult" who enters an environment unlike her own, is shook up at first, put down and ignored by most around her, but ultimately sticks to her guns, keeps fighting for truth & justice, and ends up inspiring most everyone. I'm not giving anything away by saying all that because anyone who's seen the film's trailer can tell you the same. No surprises here, folks. In fact, movies don't usually rank according to my exact expectations, but MONA LISA SMILE ended up being exactly what I thought it would be, complete with "cutesy" Julia Roberts moments, a couple of emotional scenes, apparent miscalculations, but ultimately, everything we've seen and heard before in films like DEAD POET'S SOCIETY and a dozen others like it. That said, it's still a decent watch and somewhat inspiring, especially if you're a girl or woman still trying to "find yourself" in this nutty, changing world of ours (or a man, trying to get into that same girl's pants) What was particularly humorous in this film, set in the mid-50s, was the mental attitude of many of the ladies of the period. Wow, talk about changes! I personally love women with ambition, drive, independence and intelligence, so it was especially bizarre to watch a film in which every girl actually WANTED to get married, stay home and cook. Huh? The film plays very "easy", doesn't challenge the viewer much and hardly caused a spot of wetness in either of my corneas, but did the job primarily due to its solid acting and character interplay. I didn't care much for anyone when this film started, but by its end, I was a little smitten by each of the lovely lasses.

Roberts wasn't as grating as usual either (except for one very obvious "Roberts cackle"....brrrrrr) From the four lead girls, the lesser known actress, Ginnifer Goodwin, impressed me the most with her heartfelt performance. Marcia Gay Harden was also a gas as Roberts' roommate, but could have done with more screentime. The characters as a group weren't particularly original though, with all the usual suspects present and accounted for, including "the cigarette-smoking slut", "the perfect Patty", "the rich bitch" and "the sensitive fattie" Thankfully for us, the actresses each provided their characters with some color and rode the fine line between the third and first dimensions (except for Dunst's character, who was about as one-sidedly bitchy as one can get-where's Peter Parker when you need him!) Roberts was also decent and fit the bill in terms of a woman out of place, but her romance with a local teacher wasn't enticing and ultimately, unsatisfying. I did appreciate her convictions though, as well as the film's somewhat original scene in which she, herself, gets schooled by one of the girls. The film was also very well paced, didn't last as long as you'd think, offered a nice rendition of the purer days of old, as well as some sweet cinematography. But in the end, this movie is about inspiration, particularly for women and particularly for girls who are still going through their growing stage. I remember inspiring a certain girl in my life a few years ago. It was a great time and very fulfilling for both of us. Then one day, she told me to go fuck myself.

The point is...inspiration is good, especially around Christmas time, so guys...if your girlfriend, your booty call or yes, even your mom (whose generation will surely get even more out of this film since they were likely faced with similar life-challenging decisions growing up) asks you to accompany her to MONA LISA SMILE, say "yes" and don't worry too much about it. It's actually a decent time. As for the ladies, well, don't expect anything near as deep as say, THE HOURS, but do expect plenty of 'rah-rah' for the home team and 'boo-boo' against, well...men. And by the way, it is me or is Mona Lisa a douchebag?
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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