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  • I used to run a video store and this movie rarely got rented. It came on cable this afternoon and I didn't have anything else to do. I found the beginning of the film slow and rather predictable, but, as it got further into the story, I actually found myself hanging on the story, curious as to what could POSSIBLY happen next. I now find myself wondering why it never got rented in the store, because this was REALLY a good movie. I keep guessing if it was a romantic movie trying to be funny or a comedy trying to be romantic. The blend of both is what I actually enjoyed most about the film.

    I have only seen one other movies with Alicia Witt, but I think I'm going to be looking for more of her. Elliott Gould and Marlo Thomas are a nice blend as her parents, too.
  • tedg8 January 2003
    Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    There's double reflection here: two dimensions where the matter of the film reflects its manner.

    The first is in the plot itself. Alicia Witt is an actress with a lot of the basic stuff that creates a career. She is better looking than the current crop of blondies, with enough acting talent to qualify. If Kate Hudson can garner attention, this woman should. Plus, she really does have mastery of one performing area -- the piano -- something that subsumes all of theater except mugging. This puts her far ahead ofthe pack by default.

    She is in fact a woman in constant audition. `Is this the film that will make my career?' we know she is thinking throughout the production. Oddly, what she lacks is not talent or appeal, it is sheer commitment. Kirsten Dunst had it in `Vampire' and `Little Women.' Gwyneth in `Emma,' Reese in `Freeway.' Alicia herself had it with her hypnotizing appearance in `Dune.'

    (She also was the fulcrum around which the entire cosmology of "Liebestraum" revolves.)

    But just like her character, she goes all the way to the threshold and then stops. There are problems with the direction of this film, but you can see that she does only what the meek director asked of her. She doesn't overfill the role as a committed actress would. This film ends with us not knowing if she wins the competition (or alas, without even hearing her play). She may wake up and win the race to starlethood at some time to come.

    There is one scene where she IS spellbinding, and predictably it involves her playing. She is practicing an amazing complex piece and talking to Fierstein at the same time. It reminded me of a scene in `Autumn Sonata' where two characters were similarly staged with one playing. Her playing has a comic tinge just as her lines do.

    The second reflection concerns the director. This happens a lot: a film whose moral is one thing and the manner of presentation uses exactly the opposite philosophy. This idea, then play was born to be wild screwball. The Jewish chorus was supposed to be artificial, like the family in `The Big Hit.' The parties were supposed to be mythic, like `200 Cigarettes,' the friend Sabrina was supposed to be fantastic like Holly Golightly. The shifting affairs and deceits were supposed to be Shakespearean decorative comedy.

    There's enough raw material here to make two comedies at least at the level of `Big Fat Wedding.' But it requires an edgy director. While making a film about commitment to the passion of the thing, he forgets to have passion himself.

    Oh well, see it as prelude to Alicia's breakthrough. She'll get up after going splat. At least we hope so.

    (Don't watch it for any of the familiar actors that appear. They are all as flat as they are told to be. There is an execrable `adults'-take-LSD-by-mistake bit.)

    Ted's evaluation: 3 of 4 -- Worth watching
  • "Playing Mona Lisa" is about the crucial point in your life when you're not any longer sure which direction you're heading. After graduation from music college, Claire, a gifted pianist, slightly loses it when her long-time boyfriend leaves her, her house is damaged in an earthquake and she has to move in with her slightly neurotic parents.

    The movie, while having many refreshingly comic moments, is also quite serious in its theme, and deals remarkably well with Claire's attempts to get a new grip on her life. The plot-line is not too strong and is drifting along rather than developing; I don't see this as a problem, though, as it pretty much reflects both real life and Claire's lost sense of direction. Even in its darker moments, the movie retains an overall optimistic mood and never turns into a heavy problem movie; if you're looking for quick laughs or lots of action, however, this movie is not for you.

    Lots of good acting from a great cast of characters. Alicia Witt is thoroughly enjoyable as Claire and guides her character remarkably through good times, bad times and mood swings. Brooke Langton and Johnny Galecki play along nicely as her very likeable friends. Great performances (as usual) from Elliot Gould as Claire's father and Harvey Fierstein as her piano teacher.

    An overall quiet, but thoroughly enjoyable film which starts slowly and seriously grows on you after a while. 8/10.
  • 1st watched 4/21/2001 - 7 out of 10(Dir-Matthew Huffman): Well-written and played out girl flick that is very similar to the very popular TV series "Ally McBeal" in it's theme. A young girl trying to find her man is part of the movie, but it's also about her competing piano talent and how she shuffles her romantics wants or needs with her God-given talent. At times the movie seems confused about the direction it's going which is really not a problem because in real life we're never sure what direction everything is taking. A wide mixture of varied talents are involved in this picture from young(Alicia Witt) to old(Elliot Gould - who actually does one of his best jobs in a hard role as the mixed-up father. Funny, touching, and leaving us a good message as well in the end.
  • Claire (Alicia Witt) is having one of those months. A skilled pianist, she has failed to gain acceptance into a major piano competition, causing her sorrow. Her teacher and mentor (Harvey Fierstein) is sympathetic. But, then, in short order, her boyfriend dumps her unceremoniously and an earthquake ruins her San Francisco apartment, making it necessary to move back in with the folks. Ah, the family ties that bind and choke! Mother (Marlo Thomas) is trying her hand at cooking and offering unwelcome advice to her stricken daughter. Claire's father (Elliott Gould) is a having a midlife crisis and her overachieving sister is getting set to marry a stiff-shirt dentist, in coral and bisque, no less. As Claire is seeking to pull herself out of the blues, one bright spot emerges. She meets a good-looking fish merchant (Ivan Sergei). Will her life improve? This is one zany film, with a cast of characters and a script as offbeat as they come. Witt is luminous as the gifted pianist who runs into the year from hell. Thomas and Gould are terrific as the crazy parents and the rest of the cast is very nice, especially the gorgeous and charming Sergei. With some nice costumes, scenery, and photography, the film looks good and the San Francisco setting is lovely. Even so, the script is still the big winner here, being imaginative, humorous, and surprising. If you are drawn to romantic comedies with an off-kilter charm or you get tickled watching families much crazier than your own, find this one fast. You will like what you see.
  • While it's tempting to dismiss this as just another chick flick with just another up-and-coming young adult actress, PLAYING MONA LISA is different in a lot of ways. For one thing, the writing is terrific. Characters are well-developed, their relationships are complex and engaging, and just about everyone in the film oozes charm (especially Alicia Witt, who is just terrific). For another thing, the film does not follow the traditional romantic comedy formula and still comes to a satisfying conclusion.

    And this movie is also DAMN funny. One scene in particular, which involves drug use, is so hilarious. I laughed so hard my dog was giving me funny looks.

    PLAYING MONA LISA is enjoyable from the first second to the last. Just go rent it already!
  • It's a decent and well-made romantic piece. Good and believable story, great acting. I prefer romantic movies that are trying to remain realistic and that are not 'overdone' so they won't become cheesy and unwatchable. Playing Mona Lisa is not a landmark in movie history but a great effort and a really enjoyable piece.

    What really makes this movie great is Alicia Witt, who's one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. She should get better roles in the future. Maybe she just have to change her agents. Alicia makes a believable character and even being a guy myself I constantly feel sympathy for her. I guess many guys dream about having a girlfriend like her character in the movie.
  • I never even heard of this film... It just happen to be on last night. All-star cast drenched in good writing, & flooded with comedy! Lots of good points are made throughout the entire movie. Storyline is girl loves boy. Boy dumps girl. Girl must pick up the pieces & move on...? EVERY SINGLE ACTOR in this film will carry you through life's little problems in the most humorous way! (9)
  • I don't laugh out loud that often at films, but this film had me doing that several times. Yes, some of the situations were absolutely ridiculous like Marlo Thomas and Elliot Gould doing LSD.

    At the center of it all is Alicia Witt as Claire. Witt has to do a number of different kinds of things in this part and she manages to keep it all together pretty well. And I read that she even plays her own piano, some of which is material typically done by concert pianists. In those scenes, she does an entertaining job. But she also has to do silly, and a little crazy, and depressed, and love sick like a 13 year old. But she also does seriously dealing with the future of her life. I love Witt when she does strange faces, and she gets a couple of chances to do that here. One slight negative - this wiry redhead doesn't look or sound a bit Jewish, while most of the rest of the family is definitely so.

    Fierstein does a passable job as her mentor. But Thomas and Gould are totally one-dimensional and at times cliché as are the actors playing her sister and girlfriends, and for that matter her family.

    In craziness such as this movie, it is easy to look too closely and forget that sometimes even the cliché parents on LSD can get a laugh or two if you just let yourself enjoy it.
  • Claire (Witt) is having trouble getting her concert piano career on track thanks to a semi-functional family, romantic woes, and kookie friends. "Playing Mona Lisa" is a formula sitcom quality flick full of cliche characters with just enough of a creative edge to keep me from thumbing the fast-forward button. There's little new here and nothing to get excited about. However, "Playing Mona Lisa" might be worth a look for the couch potato surfing for chick flix. (C)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Despite the presence of many "name" actors (Marlo Thomas, Elliot Gould, Harvey Fierstein, etc.) this is an embarrassing lame independent film that feels like a student project rather than a professional film. Apparently aiming to be a slice of life comedy, it falls very flat as most of the jokes are dated and extremely unfunny. The tone is very uneven and the setting -- contemporary San Francisco -- is poorly utilized.

    "Playing Mona Lisa" is about a recent music conservatory grad, Claire Goldstein (Alicia Witt) is dumped by her boyfriend and goes into a tailspin of depression and bad luck. She's surrounded by "crazy" friends and family, including Harvey Fierstein as her gay piano teacher and parents Marlo Thomas and Elliot Gould. I can't give away any spoilers here because there aren't any -- nothing happens in the course of the film and none of Claire's problems or issues are resolved or even dealt with.

    This is the kind of film that is written by someone who is either WAY out of touch with young people today -- someone well over 50 -- or someone from a foreign culture who has no idea how Americans live or act in the 90s. Claire -- a 21 year old college student -- apparently owns her own ROW HOUSE in SAN FRANCISCO...this would be virtually impossible unless her family were multi-millionaires as San Francisco is one of the most expensive housing markets in the US and Claire does not even have a job. Or maybe I have something with the multi-millionaire thing, because her parents live in a huge Victorian mansion on the banks of the San Francisco bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge (approx. value: $10 million plus).

    If it's the filmmakers intent to show the life of a super wealthy princess, that's one thing. But this is supposed to be a story about a down-to-earth, regular girl with normal life problems and a goofy (but normal) family. What wacky planet does the director/screenwriter come from that she does not realize that virtually nobody lives this way? There isn't much of anywhere to go from a premise this completely detached from normality...humor derives from exaggerated real life situations we all can recognize, if you start with an absurd, unworldy premise then there isn't much of any place to go to.

    There is plenty to laugh at and find humor in amongst young people in the late 20th century...if you had ever MET any of them. None of the 22 yr olds in "Playing Mona Lisa" have body piercings, tattoos, JOBS, college loans, computers or anything else that I associate with young people that age. In fact the whole tone of the movie seems to come from the early or mid-70s. There are a lot of marijuana and drug references, trying to be cool in a desperate way, and an excruciating scene where Claire's stuffy middle class parents "accidentally" get high....as if the parents of 20-something kids would not themselves have grown up in the early of Woodstock and pot and rock music!!!!

    This film has nothing whatever to say about contemporary young women, or the choices/problems that they face in life. It doesn't even have anything to say about the struggle that a classical music student would face in transitioning from music conservatory to professional career in one of the most ruthless and competitive fields of music.

    The only remotely interesting thing to comment on here is that Alicia Witt -- who has no gift for comedy or dialogue and utterly fails to carry the film or charm us -- appears to actually be playing her own piano pieces. This is refreshing compared to the many other lame films out there where a talentless actor "fakes" playing. However, if she was selected for the role because of this talent, it was still a mistake. It takes some charisma and personality to head a film, and Ms. Witt is a blank slate.

    This is a film to be avoided, even as a rental. Complete waste of your time.
  • Another case of "should have left it alone". I read the description of the film on digital cable, I saw "classical musician" and "Harvey Fierstein" and decided to give it a shot. I figured if anything, I would get some decent classical music and well, Harvey Fierstein - one of my favorite people in entertainment after seeing "Torch Song Trilogy" 16 years ago.

    Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I got out of this film, and in very small doses. Playing Mona Lisa is has a ridiculous premise: A gifted classically trained pianist graduates from the San Francisco Conservatory and is first proposed to after a drunken night, then dumped. She then moves back in with her family, which tries really hard to be quirky but truly fails and is actually irritating. In between spastic situations with her family, she hangs out with her impossibly "cool" friends who hold some pretty outrageously expensive looking parties and then finds a guy to mess around with. (A relationship that goes nowhere, despite the movie's attempts to make it seem like it's all hot and heavy).

    Like I said, the only personal saving graces for this movie were the short appearances of classical piano playing (by Alicia Witt herself, which is impressive) and the fabulous Harvey Fierstein. He should be a "relief actor". Anytime a film looks like it's going to fail miserably, bring in Harvey as a pinch actor, and you'll have at least one redeeming factor. It worked for Mrs. Doubtfire and Independence Day.

    --Shelly
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I really liked Alicia Witt in 'Two Weeks Notice' and decided to get some of her other efforts. This film certainly didn't fall into the enjoyable category.

    It may well not be P.C., but I can hardly imagine a less convincing Jewish girl than Alicia Witt. She is obviously from a far different section of the gene pool. It was ridiculous to cast Elliot Gould and Marlo Thomas as her parents.

    The plot has 'Claire Goldstein' (Witt) winning a piano competition, but hiding her success from all her competitors when the results are announced. This is so odd as to dampen my acceptance of all the bizarre characters, situations, and behavior encountered later in the film.

    When the plot makes 'Claire' a wallflower at a dance, I almost shut off the film in disgust. A beauty like her would have hardly faced rejection from the amorous guys on the dance floor.

    I enjoyed the tiny portion of the film that allowed Alicia to actually play the piano. She is obviously a very accomplished pianist. I got the impression that the screenplay was written for another actress and Alicia had to step in when the first choice wasn't cast for the part.

    Perhaps I was just vainly hoping for the film plot to take another direction and allow 'Claire' to shine instead being a helpless bystander in her own life.

    Otherwise, this film is full of formula characters and situations. Some efforts rise above their limited budgets. This one just plods along.
  • Gibb862 August 2003
    You really can't say that you "had fun" with a movie that often, but this movie actually has a feeling to it. She's scared to do something so she counts on others to help, and we have no idea if she gets what she wanted or not, and that's how i saw feeling with it. The acting is fun also, Alicia Witt is such a great talent I just can't believe she's not a superstar yet. I know and so do other people that there are a lot of other people that are labeled "SUPERSTARS" that really "SUPER-SUCK", and Alicia Witt is not one of them.
  • This movie is fairly campy but Alicia Witt is an engaging jewel that kept me glued to the screen. Other than that, I feel you must need a screwed up family to appreciate the humor involved in many of the scenarios. I know I enjoyed this film...
  • The movie itself is what it is. A tolerable, at times engaging chick-flick with good writing and a good balance of storylines.

    As someone who's played piano most of my life, I usually roll my eyes at Hollywood's depiction of performing pianists. Usually, the pianist sways one way when they should sway the other, they gesticulate extravagently for no reason reflected in the music, or they rotate their arms back and forth like they're churning butter when they're supposed to be playing the piano.

    Most of Alicia Witt's playing was believable, presumably because she was actually and in fact playing (she was classically trained and is credited as the performer in the film's credits).

    The only exception I noticed: the scene where she's playing the Chopin G minor Ballade while talking in a full, articulate voice to her piano instructor (Harvey Fierstein). Not impossible, but not typical either for a pianist to whip through a pretty demanding piece such as that Chopin and carry on a full-throated conversation at the same time. To me it looked like a Victor Borge routine for just a moment.

    Other then that, this film gets high marks from me for its believable piano playing. As for the rest, well, let's just say I wouldn't even be commenting on this film were it not for the goofy scene with the G Minor Ballade.
  • This is obviously a chick flick and therefore not aimed at me but, even so, I cannot see that this movie serves any point whatsoever. Alicia Witt is charming but that is NOT all that a real film requires. This is a "comedy" created by Hollywood hacks who do not really respect comedy. "Let's have a normal heroine and throw ha ha hilarious eccentric characters all around her." That's not how you create comedy, it's how contemptuous people slough junk off onto us. If you enjoyed this film, you must laugh uproariously when you see people around you fall into mud puddles. I sure wish Hollywood would quit trying to market this sort of thing as comedy and come up with some new term for it. My suggestion would be "lamedy" but I don't suppose they'd go for that. While taking a walk, a little kid in the park said, "Poop," to me. If you find that hilarious, then you'll enjoy this flick.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Mild non-vital spoilers come until the section marked ***(text goes here)*** Claire Goldstein is an elegant bimbo but a bimbo nonetheless, her friends are a sl*t, a nerd, a druggie, two TV-looking women and another bimbo, all who love to spend most of their time in wishful thinking and the parties these inspire, her sister is an absent-minded obsessive neurotic, her mentor is a strange swan in the way that he is not the corrupter but the other way around, he is more like her father figure with her parents very absent from her take on life in the movie... And I highlight the fact that he is not the cause of her corruption since in gossips, stereotypes and archetypes the gay friends conduct the women towards bitchery. She allows for an asshole playing an overdeveloped act win her and mourns with drugs just 'cause. Her mentor is not any better when it comes to his story with a guy who dumped him but whose existence is still important to him. The madness of the father developed by the father ***and the accidental drugging of the parents*** makes no sense, its funny but exaggerates the concept ***of being affected by a drug***. ***The strength of the slut grows dim very soon but its not appropriately explained and the protagonist cant answer the help provided by paying proper attention to her friend.*** A premise exists in the lessons she is taught to be all false. The druggie is meant to be the source of wisdom and again his actions makes no sense. The hypersexual asking her to join the orgy was so blunt and lacking of style that everything was influenced for the worse by his appearance. The scenes are filmed in such a way that everything seems great and important, this visual grandiloquence is the best in the film and the only thing that could draw me further and further into the end, expecting something to happen for the plot and its realization to improve. The plot, like this text, lacked any organization and the more I saw of it the more I hated the character for her stupidity, the more I hated all the characters in the movie. So it seemed the productors wanted to defend the lifestyle of its pitiful characters and, at the end, all I could appreciate was the beautiful use of the camera and the pity it made me feel for the everyday fool it was aimed for. ***The most I could cheer was the dumping of the as*h*le for a professional career, but seeing how the marriage was not canceled there was more for me to pity.*** The end product is kitsch in all the worst ways something can be kitsch. It was such a rubbish except for its nice visuals that I've not willed to do any effort to polish this entry, I did to much by just watching it. Luckily "The Fantasticks" followed and whether the later is a good film or not, the previous film left a good context to enjoy the later, with the aftertaste of this rubbish I could focus in the movies secondary plots to enjoy its criticism of quixotic females a la Madame Bovarie and a culture of feigned feelings like the rubbish I'm trashing in here did.
  • finellithomas18 March 2005
    I saw this movie a couple years ago when I was a videotape operator working the graveyard shift. I was recently reminded of it when I saw it for sale at the checkout line at the grocery store. Weak storyline, funny situations and interesting characters. The only reason to go out of your way to see this flick is that Brooke Langton looks GREAT in it. She looks better in this film than she looked on Melrose Place! Marlo Thomas and Elliot Gould share a funny scene as a middle-aged couple who accidentally take a hit of LSD. By the way, the screenplay is based on a play titled "Two Goldsteins on Acid". Harvey Firestein is great as a love-sick gay man (not a big stretch for him to get into that character!) and the supporting cast does a very good job. Watch it on a rainy Saturday afternoon and you won't be disappointed.
  • I'm familiar with Marni Freedman's work, and so anticipated "Playing Mona Lisa". The end product does not compare to what Ms. Freedman is capable of, so that is a disappointment. I'm familiar with her writing for both stage and film and she has an uncanny ear for dialogue that is simultaneously funny, real and heart-breaking. Look for her on future projects. She is truly gifted.
  • harry-7627 September 2001
    Every so often a really interesting actor comes along which strikes one's attention. Ivan Sergei is a fine example.

    Sergei's role as Matt Mateo in "The Opposite of Sex" (1998) was a perfect vehicle for this handsome actor, with a 6' 4" frame that can seem almost gawky in its skinny countenance. He perfectly caputured the essence of Christina Ricci's "semi-husband," between affairs with Martin Donavan's and Johnny Galecki's "lovers" in that delicious black comedy.

    Sergei there offered a wonderfully modulated performance, with excellent comic timing. He could be intelligent or dim-witted, but one thing he's not, and that's insincere.

    That's why his two-timing Eddie in "Playing Mona Lisa" (2000) is so unconvincing in the later part of the script. Sergei's probably just too helluva nice guy in real life-- and that's just fine, for he can go a long way by just playing himself onscreen. It's up to casting directors to properly utilize Sergei's engratiating personality in the proper roles.

    Further, in the long run, it really may be to his advantage to keep himself in the second or third "tier" of casting credits. He won't become a "star" or "romantic lead" this way (though he facially looks the part). But he may keep working and stay healthy much longer, while enjoying what he obviously loves to do: act. He has both the looks and the voice to sustain a quite respectable career.

    In the case of "Playing Mona Lisa," Marni Freedman's scenario from her play is too fragmented to provide Sergei or most of the other cast members with much of a chance to develop well-rounded characterizations. Nor does Matthew Huffman's erratic direction help matters. In the end, the movie becomes rather forgettable, leaving scant impression.

    It's just nice to see Ivan Sergei in the cast. When you see him listed, you know you're in for some warm moments with a charismatic personality who loves his craft and (very likely) humanity.