Mona Lisa Smile

"Terrible"

Mona Lisa Smile Review


"Mona Lisa Smile" is such an appalling waste of talent it actually made me mad. Scratch that -- furious.

An ironically conformist piece of mock-intellectual fluff about a forward-thinking art history professor (Julia Roberts) rocking the boat at uppity, conservative, marriage-grooming Wellesley College in the 1950s, I'd call it an estrogen-infused "Dead Poet's Society," but even that would be giving the picture too much credit for originality.

To wit, the opening voice-over in which we're told "this bohemian from California...didn't come to Wellesley to fit in. She came because she wanted to make a difference." This gives way to a parade of Eisenhower-era stock characters, like the school's board of directors who bristle at Roberts' "subversive" audacity for, among other things, suggesting that "Picasso will do for the 20th century what Michelangelo did for the Renaissance."

"Are you're saying all these modern canvases splattered with dripped paint compare to the Sistine Chapel?" sniffs one stuffy, gruff old fart, angling for audience hisses as if he were tying Roberts to a train track while twisting his mustache.

Inundated with such hackneyed bluster from traditionalist scourges, Roberts can't even find acceptance in her own classroom, where her supposedly refined, well-bred students -- all tweed skirts and white gloves -- practically heckle her with their textbook foreknowledge of her syllabus. So, of course, she switches gears, teaching them about modern art, challenging their attitudes and values, and asking questions like, "What is art? What makes it good or bad? What makes it unique?" But such topics are given only lip service, in favor of an insultingly predictable plot about these socially corseted young ladies being led toward the light of pre-1960s sexual egalitarianism.

Plucky Roberts helps one student (Julia Stiles) apply to law school behind a fiancé's back. She butts heads with the oppressive alumni president's haughty daughter (a character so shallow that even Kirsten Dunst can't make her interesting), who follows the path expected of her ("No woman chooses not to have a home," she scoffs) and winds up in a miserable marriage. And our liberating heroine is admired by a troubled but open-minded and sexually active wildflower (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who recently had an affair with the same handsome, worldly Italian professor (Dominic West) that has caught Roberts' eye.

Director Mike Newell ("Pushing Tin,""Donnie Brasco," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") gives short shrift to Gyllenhaal ("Secretary") and the film's only other atypical, appealing character, a cheery but ill-at-ease sweetheart played by the marvelous, adorable Ginnifer Goodwin (TV's "Ed"), who does what she can with an obligatory character -- the girl considered less attractive in this movie of Hollywood sensibilities because she's (gasp!) a size 10! Oh, the poor dear. She'll be lucky to find any man at all!

Also sacrificed to this pageant of tiresome clichés are Juliet Stevenson as the school nurse (and token lesbian), fired for advocating contraception, and the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden (brilliant in this year's "Mystic River") as an etiquette teacher and Roberts' timid, tightly wound, spinster housemate.

As for the star herself, Roberts brings considerable charm and her usual poised yet self-doubting accessibility to a brassy, telegraphed role that she could play in her sleep. But that's not enough to make this incongruously ahead-of-her-time character compelling. It's difficult to rally behind someone who has such blatant lessons to learn herself about women making their own choices ("To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a Colonial," say the character you're supposed to least expect it from), and who is so naive and contradictory as to believe that Wellesley would "turn out tomorrow's leaders" even though she knows it's "the most conservative college in the nation."

If the conservatives Roberts comes up against presented more than a one-dimensional challenge, the skilled actresses squandered in "Mona Lisa Smile" might have had something more to work with than 50-year-old paper-doll stereotypes that might as well be from kitchen-appliance ads in musty Life magazines.

But all this movie does is line up those stereotypes, then allow Roberts and her newly liberated students to knock them down in the most trite, routine, heart-tugging manner imaginable.



Mona Lisa Smile

Facts and Figures

Run time: 117 mins

In Theaters: Friday 19th December 2003

Box Office USA: $63.7M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing

Production compaines: Revolution Studios

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 97

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Katherine Ann Watson, as Betty Warren, as Joan Brandwyn, as Giselle Levy, as Constance Baker, as Tommy Donegal, as Bill Dunbar, as Louise, as Amanda Armstrong, as Nancy Abbey, as Wedding Singer

Also starring: ,

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The Belko Experiment Movie Review

The kill-or-die scenario that this movie hinges on isn't something new; it's been used in...

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

With the more dumbed-down title Fast & Furious 8 outside of North America, this overcrowded...

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

A Quiet Passion Movie Review

British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the...

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

The Sense of an Ending Movie Review

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize-winning novel is adapted into a remarkably intelligent, gently involving film anchored...

The Boss Baby Movie Review

The Boss Baby Movie Review

There isn't a lot of subtlety in this madcap animated comedy, which is more aimed...

Advertisement
City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

City of Tiny Lights Movie Review

After the latest incarnation of Dredd, director Pete Travis shifts gears drastically for this complex...

Going in Style Movie Review

Going in Style Movie Review

This is only technically a remake of the iconic 1979 film starring movie icons George...

Graduation Movie Review

Graduation Movie Review

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) recounts another staggeringly detailed...

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the...

Free Fire Movie Review

Free Fire Movie Review

Basically a 90-minute shoot-out, there isn't a lot to this movie. British filmmaker Ben Wheatley...

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.