out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
Mona Lisa Smile
|*Also starring: ||Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, John Slattery, Marcia Gay Harden, Topher Grace, Laura Allen, James Callahan||
Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4
MONA LISA SMILE is a female version of DEAD POETS SOCIETY whipped up into a
light, fluffy and sugary confection for the holidays. Julia Roberts stars as
Katherine Watson, a Berkeley Bohemian who in 1953 has just arrived at, what we
are told is the country's most conservative college, Wellesley, to be its new
art history instructor. An all-girl school with every student as rich as
Croesus, the students are academic overachievers who want nothing more than a
wedding ring. Katherine comes to deride the school as just "a finishing school
disguised as a college."
The film's problems, as well as its few fun moments, can be attributed directly
to the writers, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who seem incapable of
crafting characters that aren't complete stereotypes. Roberts is the
frightened idealist, who will overcome her fears and forever change the lives
of the girls she teaches. Marcia Gay Harden plays an anal teacher of "speech,
elocution and poise," who is incapable of breaking out of her self-imposed
chains. Kirsten Dunst plays the bitch who is the first to be married and the
first to be disillusioned. Julia Stiles plays the brainiac who is pre-law but
has no intention of being anything but a bride. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the
promiscuous free-spirit who finds her independence through sex. And Ginnifer
Goodwin is the slightly pudgy student who thinks she's a hopeless wallflower.
The story's arc runs from the beginning of the school year, when all that the
students want is a marriage proposal, to the end, when, thanks to the
enlightenment provided by their art teacher, they realize that there are more
possibilities in life than cooking and sewing. The actors are too smart to
convincingly play dumb, which means that the story is rarely convincing. Only
Goodwin's touching performance as a girl who thinks she's undesirable has any
believability or punch.
The few joys of the preposterously over-the-top story come in the way that the
film captures the sense of time and place, right down to the paint-by-numbers
kits and to the teaching of young ladies in the proper way to cross and uncross
their legs. The dialog can be quite delicious at times, including my two
favorites: "Art isn't art until someone says it is." and "Forget the A-bomb.
Freon is going to change the U. S. of A." We have our dot-coms. They had
MONA LISA SMILE runs 1:59. The film is rated PG-13 for "sexuality, nudity and
language" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes
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