A review by Shlomoh Sherman
August 22, 2018
Read about Mona Lisa Smile On the Internet Movie Data Base
Director: Mike Newell
Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Stars: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles
Plot Summary: A free-thinking art professor teaches conservative 1950s Wellesley girls to question their traditional social roles.
Tagline: In a world that told them how to live, she taught them how to think.
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues
Parents Guide: See below
Language: English - Italian
Release Date: December 19, 2003 (USA)
Filming Locations: Wellesley, Massachusetts - Yonkers, New York - Massachusetts - Bronx Community College - University Avenue at West 181 Street, Bronx, New York City, New York - Columbia University - Broadway & 116th Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York - New Haven, Connecticut - New York City, New York - Oakland, California - Parker, Arizona - Putnam Valley, New York - San Francisco, California - St Augustine Catholic Church, Brooklyn, New York City, New York - Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut - Tarrytown, New York - Wellesley College - 106 Central Street, Wellesley, Massachusetts - Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut - Glen Ridge, New Jersey - Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York City, New York - Silliman College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
Opening Weekend USA: $11,528,498
Gross USA: $63,860,942
Cumulative Worldwide Gross: $141,337,989
Production Co: Revolution Studios, Red Om Films
Runtime: 117 min
Sound Mix: DTS - Dolby Digital - SDDS
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 5 nominations. See below
What I like about this movie is that it's totally 1950s - but with statements about all the negative aspects of that decade [that certain people think made America great]. I was there. Believe me! It wasn't great in that decade. Quite the opposite if you weren't lucky to be the "right" kind of person. Need I say more?
Katherine Ann Watson is an art professor and has accepted a position teaching art history at the prestigious and very conservative Wellesley College. Watson has very avant garde ideas for a woman of the 1950s. She is a serious teacher and cares passionately for both her subject of expertise and for her students.
Her students have been raised with the idea that although it may be important for a young woman to have a university education, their more important goal in life is to find the right man to marry.
Initially, the women put Katherine through a period of sardonic testing. She rises to the challenge and before long, becomes one of the students' favorite teachers.
Katherine realizes that her students are very bright but that they are wasting their academic potential by concentrating on marriage rather than on dynamic careers. She and her students have formed strong bonds but Watson's views are far too outrageous for the dominant 1950s culture of the college. The administration is not fond of the fact that Katherine has become a personal friend to her students and that she has entered into a romantic and sexual relationship with another of the professors. Bill Dunbar, the man with whom Katherine is having the affair, quips that she reminds him of Mona Lisa as her smile is enigmatic.
Undaunted, Katherine seeks to instill in the young women that they are more than appendages of a man they might marry. She tells them that a man who really respects them will want them to realize their full life potential in careers that they may want to pursue.
Joan Brandwyn, played by Julia Stiles, dreams of being a lawyer and wants to enroll in law school. Katherine encourages her to apply to Yale Law School, which she does and is accepted. But ultimately, Joan elopes with her fiancé, Tommy (Topher Grace), and is very happy. She chooses to be a wife and mother after graduating, and asks Katherine to respect her choice.
Katherine continues to encourage the students to seek fulfillment in life with both marriage and career. Eventually, her very liberal attitude, her interpersonal relationship with her students, and her sexual affair with another teacher cause the administration first to not pick up her tenure for the next semester. But confronted with the realization that her classes are the most popular and most attended ones, they reconsider and tell her that they will renew her tenure so long as she agrees to follow the status quo of the school culture, namely, she is not to engage in personal relationships either with her students or other staff members. These are conditions that she refuses to accept.
Sadly and happily, her students accompany her, bike riding beside her as she leaves the school grounds.
The script and acting are superb. I especially was drawn to the ending montage showing magazine and TV ads with women as the perfect housewives, catering to their husbands' personal and professional needs; showing women demonstrating the latest kitchen appliances and house cleaning products, maternity wards, Miss America pageants, and Levittown houses. Thanks for the memories! NOT! [as I giggle]
Here is an excerpt from TonstantViewer's IMDB June 15, 2004 review:
This Picture Is Better Than It Should Be
Is Katherine Ann Watson, played by Julia Robert, real or fictional? Best Answer: The character is fictional. The university is thought to be a fictionalized version of the University of California, Berkeley, but the story and characters are fiction. - noted on the Yahoo Answers page at https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060613214948AAWmAsq
The Phrase MONA LISA SMILE
The phrase suggests that a positive seeming attitude put forth by people may be deceptive. The women students at the university claim that their true happiness will lie in finding a man to marry and lovingly support in his career and happily bear his children. But clearly, it's obvious to them that this role diminishes them in some important way if it is their only future.
Given the frustration that many women of the 1950s must have felt, it is little wonder that the following decade produced the movement known as Women's Liberation, especially in that it was the decade which saw the creation of the contraceptive pill which freed females of the worry of unwanted pregnancies should they choose to engage in extra-marital recreational sex.
A good analysis of the film can be found at https://m.chicagoreader.com/chicago/history-versus-her-story/Content?oid=914311
KUDOS TO Julia Roberts as Katherine Ann Watson; I have always wondered what people see in this actress; as far as I am concerned, she is not all that; however she delivers an excellent performance in this film
Kirsten Dunst and Topher Grace also starred in Spider-Man 3 (2007).
Topher Grace appears in the August, 2018 movie, BLACKKKLANSMAN, as David Duke; reviewed on this website
Part of the film was shot at Columbia University of which actresses Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal are both graduates
In order to prepare for their roles, the leads were all put through a finishing school two weeks prior to filming.
To prepare for her role, Julia Roberts observed art history classes at New York University.
Ginnifer Goodwin's film debut.
The painting that the girls look at is Jackson Pollock's Number 1 ( Lavender Mist)
Producers originally applied to film at Bryn Mawr College, another one of the Seven Sisters. It is unclear why they ultimately went with Wellesley College.
Ginnifer Goodwin and Topher Grace both played in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004).
The Harvard Din & Tonics is the a cappella group singing "Istanbul not Constantinople".
PARENTS GUIDE FOR MONA LISA SMILE (2003)
Certification: MPAA Rated PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues
SEX & NUDITY
VIOLENCE & GORE
ALCOHOL, DRUGS & SMOKING
AWARDS FOR MONA LISA SMILE (2003)
Golden Globes, USA 2004
Read about Mona Lisa Smile On the Internet Movie Data Base
Cast overview, first billed only:
Julia Roberts ... Katherine Ann Watson
Kirsten Dunst ... Betty Warren
Julia Stiles ... Joan Brandwyn
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Giselle Levy
Ginnifer Goodwin ... Connie Baker
Dominic West ... Bill Dunbar
Juliet Stevenson ... Amanda Armstrong
Marcia Gay Harden ... Nancy Abbey
John Slattery ... Paul Moore
Marian Seldes ... President Jocelyn Carr
Donna Mitchell ... Mrs. Warren
Terence Rigby ... Dr. Edward Staunton
Jennie Eisenhower ... Girl at the Station
Leslie Lyles ... Housing Director
Laura Allen ... Susan Delacorte
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