Those of you who like the popular genre of an eccentric, determined teacher reaching a bunch of tough inner city kids will not like Mona Lisa Smile. It's much more akin to Dead Poet's Society than Blackboard Jungle. Julia Roberts is hired to teach at Wellesley in the 1950s, and she's surprised by what she finds in her all-girls students. The featured girls are Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin, and they're all brilliant and enthusiastic about their studies. They know far more about art history than Ms. Roberts bargained for, so she finds herself being challenged as well. But, when she tries to get them to dig deeper, she finds out all they really want to do is get married, not have careers with their smart minds. Did she forget the movie takes place in the 1950s? Every girl in that era went to college to her "MRS" degree. Why was she shocked? And, why was she acting like such a hypocrite; after hours, she discovers the most important thing in the world herself. She has a romance with Dominic West, all the while educating her students on the importance of prioritizing themselves over men. I think Julia Roberts really did forget the era and setting of the film. It was bad enough to grossly miscast her as an educator, but to put her in a period piece showed extremely poor judgment. She delivers every line, every gimmicky facial expression, and every signature laugh the same way she does in every single movie. She's Julia Roberts, just in a different costume. I was shocked, especially since this movie came after her Oscar. You'd think an Academy Award winning actress would want to show her award was justified, instead of ruining what might have been a good movie by phoning in a performance that could have been taken from outtakes from Pretty Woman. I really wanted to like this movie. I grew up watching teen movies from Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles, and I was just starting to love the beautiful new star Maggie Gyllenhaal. But the leading lady completely ruined any enjoyment I might have had.
Mona Lisa Smile
Action / Drama
Mona Lisa Smile
Action / Drama
Keywords: 1950s massachusetts art school art history femininity
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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.
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
May 02, 2022 at 04:39 PM
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Julia Roberts phones in her performance
Well made and earnest period drama that ticks most of the right boxes, but never quite convinces
This was a decent period drama, and while it ticks most of the right boxes it never quite convinces. For one thing, while the story focusing on feminism in the 1950s is on the whole intriguing, there are parts when there is not a lot going on, causing occasional pacing problems. While there are some delicious lines from Julia Roberts and Kirsten Dunst especially, the screenplay wasn't as intricately crafted as it could have been and fell into the danger of being too stereotyped. Mike Newell's direction is able, and while the transition from tradition and progression clashing is well captured, it is sometimes too overly simplistic so the film doesn't quite give enough authenticity.
Despite these flaws, there is still a lot to recommend it. The film is very well made, with dazzling cinematography and picturesque scenery. And the costumes, hairstyles and makeup were beautiful. The music is lovely, very pleasant and soothing. Making the most of their rather stereotypical characters, the actors acquit themselves well. I admit it, I don't often care for Julia Roberts, but here she makes for a sympathetic lead as the unconventional art lecturer and does it more than adequately. Solidly supporting her as the students are Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllanhaal and Kirsten Dunst especially. The film is ably directed too, and is emotionally manipulative, not in a bad way though. All in all, it is a very earnest and well made film, but as a drama it doesn't quite convince as much as it should've done. 7/10 Bethany Cox
Great actors but not enough risks
It's 1953, Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is a California girl hired as an Art History teacher at the conservative all girls Wellesley College. The students are all from upper crust families, top academically, and aiming to get marry.
There are top talented actors in this movie. The girls are Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ginnifer Goodwin. That's some acting power. The oddest thing acting wise has to be the subdue performance of Julia Roberts. She starts off timidly which just doesn't fit her persona. Her energy is literally vibrating as she tries to squash it down. Instead of a slice of life, it feels more like a magazine article about a slice of life.
Without more realism or more tension, the story just doesn't have the zip. One problem may be the fact that everything is about marriage. It is the era of the movie, but just superficially old fashion. Maybe director Mike Newell should emphasize more the pressure of the day. Instead he assumes the audience feels this automatically. He definitely needs to build up the tension. He needs more scenes like the one with Kirsten Dunst and her mother.