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.