Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

PG-13   |    |  Drama


Mona Lisa Smile (2003) Poster

A free-thinking art professor teaches conservative 1950s Wellesley girls to question their traditional social roles.


6.5/10
73,201

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  • Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Julia Roberts and Mike Newell in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
  • Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles in Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

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20 December 2003 | Shakespeare-2
Finally, a film that doesn't insult our intelligence!
I didn't expect much going into "Mona Lisa Smile". I figured it was going to be a rehash of all the movies ever made about teachers. You know, from "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", to "The Dead Poets' Society" and "Mr. Holland's Opus". But "Mona Lisa Smile" pleasantly surprised me, especially the uncompromising, principled ending.

Another thing that pleased me was the film's assumption of an intelligent, educated audience that does not require any dumbing-down of art and culture. "Mona Lisa Smile" rattles off names of artists and their works as if it fully expected moviegoers to be conversant with them. In at least one case, the film names neither the artist nor the work (Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon"). All of these things are taken as givens, as part and parcel of a sophisticated audience's cultural baggage -- quite a change from the usual pap that Hollywood spoonfeeds us!

Moreover, the film sometimes speaks volumes by what it doesn't say but simply shows, taking for granted that we will fill in the blanks from our knowledge of the history of the period (that is, the early 1950s). There is one oblique reference to McCarthyism. A photo of an atomic explosion reminds us of the post-WWII, Cold War era. A game show on TV triggers a memory of the payola scandal. Again, "Mona Lisa Smile" credits us with brains rather than insulting our intelligence.

Mercifully, the title of the film is not simply a reference to Julia Roberts' famous beestung, collagen-enhanced lips. As Kirsten Dunst's character explains toward the end of the movie, Mona Lisa's smile is not necessarily an indication that she is happy and content -- any more than the women of the 1950s with their dream homes and seemingly perfect lives. "Mona Lisa Smile" is ultimately an indictment of those in society who perpetrate and perpetuate secrets and lies, and a tribute to those through whom the truth prevails.

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